This is the journal of Zong-Tossu, a master ghav-urath (life-shaper) from the Rhul-thaun capital of Thamasku. A master of life-shaping, he was sent by the har-etuil (judgment-makers) along with a detachment of junior life-shapers and lawkeepers to investigate a mysterious ring of standing stones and the strange creatures said to occasionally appear within. The expeditionary force was accompanied by a Thri-Kreen emissary known as Cho’ka.
After stepping through the vortex within the ring of standing stones, Zong-Tossu and his retinue find themselves is a strange new land.
As you did not arrive with an army, might I assume you are not here to arrest my nephew? Lord Talibs voice was so soft as to be almost a whisper. His pale eyes seemed to look past me, and I wondered if perhaps he were blind.
Floating indolently in a steamy haze had resolved nothing. My shoulder still ached as I clambered out. So did my heart. I drew a little magic to quickly dry myself, wincing as the beads of moisture flashed into steam as though my skin were hot stone, then padded back to my quarters. I dressed quickly, in the charcoal-grey sampot, crown and collar. My makeshift leather armour would serve for the journey, but was not appropriate attire for visiting the manor of a noble house.
I do not remember leaving the palace. For all I know, my lord and husband might have teleported me through the Grey – he has done that before when he wanted something done quickly. More likely, my mind was simply too preoccupied to take notice of the route my legs took through those shadowy halls.
My lord and husband's private chambers, deep inside his stone palace, are windowless. No torches line the walls. The Shadow King himself needs no light to see by, and many of his magical experiments require total darkness. Even the most favoured of his wives are not permitted to bring their own illumination into these halls.
The stone halls of the palace of the Shadow King are never truly silent, filled with the endless susurration of whispered voices even in the dead of night. The carved templars lining its twisting, labyrinthine corridors in high relief seem trapped in an endless dance, stone limbs writhing in tranced ecstasies as the flickering torchlight plays upon them. One is left with the disturbing impression that these stone women are the source of the endlessly echoing murmurs, the true living inhabitants of the palace. When I first came to the Naggaramakam, a confused and wistful child plucked from my dying mother’s mud-brick hovel to become yet another bride of the Shadow King, I wondered for a time whether those stone women waited only for us flesh-and-blood women to leave or to die, so that they might live and serve our Lord and Husband in our place.
The ancient road to the Mekillot Gate is straight and wide enough for three argosies to pass side by side with room to spare. The paving slabs, each some four yards across, are irregularly shaped, yet fit together so closely you could not slide even a hair between them. Even after countless millennia of heavy traffic, the wagon ruts that mar their dark blue-grey surface are at most a quarter-inch deep. Like the fort and causeway in Bremil Pass, the Caravan Road was built to last out the ages.
The wind picked up again near dawn, a powerful yet steady easterly that filled the silt skimmers wyrmsilk sail easily, and the crimson sun had barely cleared the horizon at our backs when we reached the edge of the first Nibenese noble holding. The eastern sky was a lurid green, as often happens around dawn when there have been dust-storms in the distant Sea of Silt. Gazing out in that direction, I could just make out with my souls eye if not my mortal senses the distant spike of power that was the Pristine Tower.