Isutia and the Lands of Fate
Zsuzsa's dusky complexion has darkened further from the near constant traveling beneath the blazing heart of Sarenrae.
Sulis (or suli-jann) are minor offshoots of the jann that live among humans. They are tall and look like ordinary men and women but for their abnormal beauty and the occasional flash of elemental light in their eyes. Though physically superior to and more attractive than normal humans, some suli-jann remain unaware of their genie heritage until later in life, when contact with a full-blooded genie draws forth a portion of their elemental power.
While all sulis can trace their lineage back to a janni ancestor, very few have an immediate janni parent. In most cases, this legacy lies fallow in the blood for generations, only to emerge decades or even centuries later. Those whose powers become apparent early on usually lead troubled lives as youths, as the question of a child’s origins tears some families apart; few of these unfortunate sulis grow up knowing anything of the peace of a happy home.
Sulis age at the same rate as humans and are physically identical to humans in terms of height and weight. During their youth, sulis tend to be slightly smaller than their fully human peers, but grow quickly to their full adult height upon reaching their teenage years. Sulis are impulsive and passionate by nature, and even those sulis who know nothing of their genie blood possess a measure of personal pride.
Sweat that is ever present upon his unnaturally smooth skin gives it the look of oil-rubbed bronze. At this point it becomes clear he was not jesting and that he grows no hair. No stubble appears upon his face or head or even his armpits. Explaining, he did as a child have hair but that after his blood awoke and he felt the raw elements churning inside, his hair fell out and never grew again. Other suli do not suffer the same, and he does not know if it means anything, but he is long used to it and even took advantage of it to have the tattoo done. He shows great pride in the tattoo and keeps it clean, never covering it anymore, even when the Sun blazes at its’ zenith. The others see him frequently polishing it with spare cloth or kerchief. Having seen it up close, the detail is truly great, and it is clear to even those who have seen many that this tattoo was done by a skilled artisan, possibly even a Master. Upon arriving in Wati and spending some time out of armor, all can see the other difference. Zsuzsa was well muscled before when traveling with the Caravans but the combined results of Akkoth’s exercise regimen and constant travel and battle is obvious and impressive. Not only does he now appear cut from Stone, every muscle defined, but he has also filled out, gaining weight and heft in his middle and lower body. Trudging through mile after mile of sand has doubled his stamina, or so he boasts in jest often.
His clothes are different after so many battles. Gone are the loose, multi layered garments. Now the somewhat tarnished and slightly dented or stretched chain rings of his mail shirt are visible at the chest and arms. He wears light-colored shirts of clinging silk over it, with a small pocketed vest of brilliant yellow and orange, and white cloth trousers tucked into high boots of soft flexible leather the color of sand. Leather and chain bracers and greaves adorn his forearms
Zsuzsa did not know he was different as a young boy. It was during a purge that a robed zealot singled him out, declaring him an outsider. His human parents protected him. They argued against the priest, and the village rose with them. The priest should have fled, but thought too much of his power and authority. Using his powers, he struck down the largest among the villagers. In fury, the townspeople did the opposite of what he’d hoped, and mobbed him. He was killed, the body disposed of, the secret kept, but they all knew they would return.
When they did, his parents hid him. But he saw as they drug a traveler, passing through, into the main square. They declared him an outsider, unnatural, an abomination, and a demon. He explained his ancestry, but they did not listen, and without trial or hesitation, the priest struck him down.
From that day, Zsuzsa really understood he was different and what that meant for him. It took years but his parents sought others like him; outcasts and their allies. One day, when he was nearing his teens, a strange man came, with skin like broken earth. Sorrowful farewells were shared as he left his parents and followed the man. The journey was long and grueling.
At its end, they came to a broken land, dangerous and desolate. Here was hidden a place meant only for their kind. A city of outcasts, known as the Vale of Strangers. Amidst the acid pools and lava tubes they lived in small groups, their natural resistances protecting them from the harsh environment. They used their kinship with the elements to form buildings of the raw stone and earth. Their native allies brought them news and supplies they could not produce themselves. It became his home, and it still is to this day, but so was the small home in the human village where he was born, to a tailor and a seamstress. He has grown up happily enough in the vale, but with a terrible void left by his parents’ absence.
He began to feel the warring power within him around the age of 16. It was not long after this, the dreams began. Just flashes at first. A battle of some kind. He saw the image of a golden blazing figure, with a face of such compassion, yet sternness. All so vague, and forgotten in seconds upon waking.
One night though, he dreamed vividly. It was the dim morning, sun just up. He saw his home of stone blasted apart and the bodies of his friends strewn about, rent by claw and fang. The image of an old stone outcrop many of the children would climb for fun flashed before him, with a symbol emblazoned upon it. He woke with a start. It was dark. The sense of urgency had not left him. He left the house and hiked to the outcrop, climbing its face to the top. The sun was just starting to light the land. All was at peace. But he felt dread.
There was no symbol here, as it had shown in the dream. He searched all over the rocky protrusion for something but there were no marks except those made by children. Perhaps it was just a dream and he was a foolish kid as old Svetgrd often said, he thought. He glanced toward the city, easily visible from this height. He felt guilty for wanting to give up, but O’da’ktal would be making meal-cakes by now. He could almost smell them, and smiled. And frowned. The shadows were wrong. From here he could see the city’s outer ring; it should have been fully lit by the diffuse light filling the valley, but it was dark. And then he saw them; a mass of creeping humanoids, concealed by a unnatural darkness, and behind them, a cadre of priests, even at this distance their symbols on shield and robe unmistakable.
He was too far to be heard or seen or to make it back in time. Scrambling, swinging up the side of the outcropping recklessly, squeezing between two of the uppermost “fingers” of rock, so called as they were splayed open like a hand. It was here, in the center, the palm, the symbol had gleamed. But nothing gleamed. The sun was fully upon it now. Screams reached his ears, and then the city alarm began to peal. Desperate, kneeling there, he closed his eyes, hoping to see the face.
To his surprise, he did. Never before had he been able to recall it. The eyes were closed. Please, he begged, I know who you are now. Forgive my doubt. I will give anything to save them. I will give myself.
The eyes blazed open, twin blades of sunlight seeming to pierce his soul. The promise was true, and he knew somehow, accepted. He opened his eyes, but saw no symbol. Then he noticed a fine crack in the rock. Had it been there already? Had She done it? His weight kneeling there? He chipped at it and a chunk of the rock broke away easily. Realization struck; it wasn’t rock at all. It was a hardened layer left from uncounted years of ash falls and acid pours and dust waves and lava bursts. Prying and chipping away with his dagger revealed not stone, but crystal; translucent, with flowing lava held within. And there in the spot shown in his dream, was the symbol, seemingly carved of glass.
Levering a chuck of sediment loose, he heard fresh screams, clashing weapons, and a bestial roar he could recognize as Fyrryn’s ward, Umox, even from this distance. Good. That should give them some time. Umox was fierce. Frantically, he brushed the dirt and debris off and leapt aside, nearly falling from the precipice in his haste to let the touch of Sarenrae fall upon the symbol.
Instantly, the symbol blazed like the sun, absorbing the light, spreading it across the surface of the crystal. He could see the lava no longer churned, but was motionless, as if waiting, before the sun-like radiance obscured everything. Feeling it through his feet, the tiniest vibration began, but quickly grew. Within seconds, the sediment was cracking across the entire surface of the outcropping, spears of light jabbing from the cracks into the sky. Turning to move down the slope, a ripple moved through the hillside, like something pressing against a barrier. Falling, he rolled to a stop at the base of the outcrop, cut and bruised but too shocked to notice. Dirt and clay and chunks of rock were shaken off by the quaking, and fell or slid in piles down the slopes, revealing the full mass of crystal that was the promontory. It glowed like a miniature sun. For decades, his people had climbed and sat upon and watched from atop it, never knowing what they walked upon.
The mass of lava trapped inside shifted, and the top melted, the symbol that still glowed brighter than the rest dropping into the center of the inferno. Heat so intense he felt it singe his hair and clothes washed over him as the top of the crystal exploded with flame. Zsuzsa expected death, and found himself closing his eyes and conjuring the face again. When death did not come, he peeked, and saw standing atop the broken peak a being of pure flame. Knowing very little of elemental creatures personally, he had heard his brethren talk of them, including in regard to himself. But he had never seen one, and had half-thought them to be playing tricks upon him.
Though motionless, it never ceased moving. It appeared as if a dozen different bonfires had drifted free of their confines and combined to make a single vaguely tear-shaped mass of blazing flames the size of a barn, some blue-white, others dark red-orange, with halos of green and yellow, and chunks of debris drifting within in various states of melt or char. It had no eyes, but he could feel it regarding him, and reflexively stood up, not wishing to be seen as weak. As he did, he laughed at himself thinking that standing would make him any less vulnerable against such a being.
Strangely, the inferno crackled in response, and he knew it was laughter. He didn’t think it was, or guess it was; somehow, without a shadow of doubt or question as to how, he KNEW it was laughter. Shifting, the teardrop flame stretched and shaped, until it was a form Zsuzsa knew; a humanoid. Columns of flame burned downward to form legs and even feet where the flame splayed over the rocks, baking them. A wide, tumultuous torso of swirling fire fed the arms, made of tongues of flame that shrink and grew, and a head with a blue-white crown.
It bowed to him, not as an inferior, but in presentation to his new form. Not knowing exactly what to do, Zsuzsa nervously clapped, and then jumped in surprise as it responded by moving up to him. One moment, it had been upright nearly 20 yards away, and the next the fire moved as rapidly as a windblown wildfire does burning across a dry prairie. When it reformed in front of him, the heat was surprisingly minimal, and Zsuzsa could see the creature was focusing it away to avoid killing him.
A woosh, then a fierce crackling as blue flames danced in pattern, then a dull roar issued from over the constant light crackle of flames and intake of air as it ate the oxygen around it. Even the intensity of the heat varied as it “spoke” to Zsuzsa. Understanding was immediate. It was thanking him for release from an imprisonment. It said she had told it long ago to give the one who released it an item. One “arm” reached out, lengthening to a blue tip of flame, and held there was the crystalline symbol.
He reached and took it without thinking, noticing it was cool to the touch. The elemental light glimmered through myriad prisms, and reflected the sun, and a sense of hope took him. His thank you came out in the creature’s language, and he was told it was because the fire burned within him, as did the ice and wind and stone. Zsuzsa knew this to be true; he’d been told by his mentor, the one who had brought him here.
“You are Kehx-child.” it said in gouts of flame and the sound of sizzling heat. “I am Kehx-child. We are kin. Hwoth, Kehx-child…”
“Zsuzsa, Kehx-child. If we are kin, help me, Hwoth. Evil men are hurting my people." pleaded Zsuzsa, with a desperate look toward the village, but he could not see from down here. Though it seemed long, very little time had passed; the din of battle was still growing and could be heard in snatches.
Without responding, the elemental grew to its full size, becoming a solid pillar of flame as it stretched upward larger than the biggest structure in the Vale. Breaking off a flat piece of slate from the hillside, he set it down, telling Zsuzsa to step upon it. Lifting it, he carried him with speed buoyed upon waves of heat.
From his perch as they streaked across the land, the boy saw snatches of the valley. Fires were burning, which was a sign of traps being sprung, as the buildings were nearly all of stone, and there were dozens of combatants filling the streets, especially the main thoroughfare where a line of villagers fought back waves of the dark hoard. In one section of the city, a large section of stone had broken under the weight of the attackers, dumping them into pits of boiling acid. Their screams did not last long. But already a wave was pressing in at the town from another angle. It would be only time, even without the priests.
The priests stood apart, calling forth with great voices to their despicable gods, and Zsuzsa felt hate spring like a fire from an ember. Pointing, he heard his own voice screaming in the language of flame. His vision was consumed by it. From above he watched Hwoth the Flame-elder, as he called himself, joyfully burning whole companies of beastmen to cinders simply by rushing over them. Those that were tough enough to survive the fireworm’s passing were quickly taken down by the villagers.
With the hordes hold on the front bridge broken, the villagers turned to fight the now-outnumbered wing of foes that had been flanking. With hate blinding him, Zsuzsa directed the elemental out of the city. A dozen larger versions of the same minions; short, squat, grey-skinned creatures with vicious fangs and wild, unkempt hair covering their knobby skin, raced up and were crushed into burning char-piles before ever reaching Hwoth.
The clerics turned and saw them. All wore tabards with the hated symbol upon it. One of them had thick armor of interlocking plates, and moved forward swinging a two-handed flail in a tight arc above his plated head, chanting to his god as he went. The smaller of the three, robe covering his mail, fell back. Eyes upon the symbol in his hand, he stammered out prayers.
The third was the one Zsuzsa could not tear his sight from. It was the same man who had come to his birth-home, though some years older. Shaven temples and a long braid of golden hair. Cruel but fiercely intelligent eyes regarded them both, unafraid.
The battle was vicious, with the fire elemental barely surviving the onslaught. In the end, both the other priests were destroyed, and only the rallying outcasts return saved the elemental and Zsuzsa, as the head priest’s vile god pulled him from harm. Before he went, he told Zsuzsa he remembered him. He told him that his parents were dead, and breaking them is what had led him here.
Not knowing if that was true, Zsuzsa had to say goodbye to Hwoth, who dubbed them what loosely translated as ember-kin. Free again to serve the Pure Flame, as he named Sarenrae, he would travel back to his home plane. With a promise to see Zsuzsa again some day, he winked away.
Zsuzsa stayed long enough to help the entire colony move, for they could not stay with such a man knowing their location. Zsuzsa seemed to grow years in the span of months. The experience with the priest matured him somewhat, making him more serious, more focused. Growing into a strapping young man already, he gained another foot over the next year. He began seeking those with military knowledge and skill, as well as the few devout members of the Light of Sarenrae. Their flock had grown considerably since the story of the elemental spread. But he did not sit in the seats. He sought their guidance to become like them, and like the priest that he hated. He questioned them on becoming a vessel for her power, and they answered.
When he wasn’t exploring his own faith with long meditations and grueling physical exertion, he trained in battle and weaponry with an eclectic variety of trainers. One taught him the use of simple and common weapons, saying what good was it to be able to wield a battleaxe when all you have at hand are spears. He gave him his first longspear, the one he wields now. Another trained him in the preferred weapon of Sarenrae; the scimitar. He taught him the way of Sarenrae; redemption or a swift death for evil-doers.
In a year, he felt himself ready, though he was still not able to channel Her power. But he could wait no longer. He traveled home. When he reached the village, it was still there. Some buildings he remembered were gone, torn down, and one had remnants of a blaze on one side. His home was still there, but when he knocked a tiny elderly halfling answered. Gone for some time, they had been, taken away by some priest he said. Prisoners were kept at a keep on the outskirts of the countryside, then shipped to the fortress.
It took him many months before he was filling a position on the wagon that took the prison loads of food and supplies each week. He did this for many months more, before one day he did see his mother, held with the other women. They’d been allowed to come outside for a short time as there had been some sort of accident making the air inside nauseating. The yearning to call out to her almost won through, but he said nothing. Their eyes met for a moment, and she seemed to start, but at this distance he saw she shrugged it off as a lookalike or trick of her own mind. After some time, he succeeded in befriending one of the prisoners he dealt with directly, and gave her a message for his mother. The return message said his father was alive. They were allowed to see one another once a month. She would pass on the message. When he heard back again, his father’s message was to the point and clear: leave and do not return. They did not tell where our people were, and they did not sacrifice to have him be caught. Knowing he would not listen, his father also included much information regarding guards and a detailed map of the facility. Insisting that to do this, he would need help, and a lot of it. He bid him to leave and they would survive, knowing that some day, when he could, he would come for them.
After that journey, on the way back, that he understood finally what he must do, and how to serve Her Light. It was time to find others like himself, who needed help, while seeking those that would help him in return.
Taking up with a caravan, he traveled to and fro with them, beginning to do more direct work for the society of strangers in both intelligence and supply gathering. His nearly full-human appearance made him an ideal recruiter, and he began finding victims like himself and helping them escape, all in the name of Sarenrae. It did not matter to him any longer that he did not have her powers; he used what gifts he had to help.
Oftentimes he would scout ahead of the caravan. One day, as he traveled up the road ahead of the caravan, he saw a group of men surrounding something on the ground. Getting closer, it looked like a man. Definitely a male humanoid of some sort. At first, he was certain it was a half-orc but another flurry of blows made him blink. No, it wasn’t orcish at all. A half-elf! He could see the ears. But then a ruffian again blocked his view. They pulled him to his feet. Definitely a human. Wearing the garb of a cavalier! He looked around for a mount. For a moment, he swore he could see the shadow of a horse in his periphery but when he looked, nothing was there. Looking back, he scoffed. That was no cavalier. Clearly wearing the light trappings of a ranger, he was. Zsuzsa shook his head as if to clear his mind…and the man was wearing a breastplate with a symbol and equipment of an Inquisitor. Was he going mad?!
Ignoring his own confusion, he finally stepped forth and gave a shout. Seeing the caravan not far behind him, the thugs took flight. Walking up to the man lying on the ground, he knew himself mad. It was no cavalier, ranger, or inquisitor. It was a cleric..wait, no, a Paladin! A Paladin of a symbol that seemed to be changing as fast as he could see. Whatever this man was, his injuries were grave, and Sarenrae’s power seemed unable to heal them. Taking him aboard the caravan, Zsuzsa used more mundane means and treated his wounds for many days as they traveled, and in all that time the man never could decide anything, as if a strange curse afflicted him.