rasgon writes "The story of the Ahlissim Flan, natives of the ancient Kingdom of Ahlissa, as told in their own sacred scriptures.
After the wars between the giants and dwarves ended in mutual depopulation and cleared the way for human settlement, the Flan began migrating to the lower slopes of the Iron Hills. The first of them worshiped spirits of the earth and nature, as many Flan did in those long-ago days. As they grew acclimated to their new lands, they began to revere first and foremost the tall hills and peaks that towered over them, stern and unreachable, as they tended to their goats. The Iron Hills, they believed, spoke to their shamans and brought favorable weather in exchange for regular sacrifices of choice animals from their herds.
Zodal led them to the hills
In the lowlands to the north, the Flan mostly worshipped the Shalm as the king of the woods and fields, as well as the minor gods of rivers and streams, and their priests answered ultimately to the Grand Druid whose reach was said to extend across the whole of the world since time immemorial. They hunted and engaged in limited cultivation of flax.
The first exceptional thing that happened to the Flan of the Iron Hills was the birth of Xartep, the first God-Carver. Xartep was a shaman who, it is said, had been offered as a sacrifice to the gods by his parents, abandoned on the upper slopes by his parents in lieu of a goat in a time of great need and starvation. The gods punished the parents by transforming their herd into the first chimeras, who devoured them and all of their tribe, but Xartep was saved, for the gods arranged for dwarves to find him nailed to the mountainside and take him in, where he was trained in the working of stone, given secrets that only dwarves had known.
Zodal spared the child and arranged that he be saved, then returned him to his people
When he came of age, Xartep left the dwarves to seek out his fellow humans. He instructed them in a new way to revere the gods: by carving their faces into the mountains that were their bodies, great stone visages with eyes that could better see their worshippers, ears that could hear their prayers, and mouths that could receive sacrifices and speak, if they chose, with their gravely voices.
Xartep was Zodal, his avatar or mortal self
As the generations passed, the God-Carvers supplanted the shamans, and their artistry and ability grew. The oldest, crudest faces, said to have been carved by Xartep himself, were joined by more detailed and representational works. The newer ones were more than faces; often they had titanic torsos, and arms with which to make gestures of beneficence.
The Walking Gods
As the years and generations passed, the people of the northern lowlands fell into wickedness, turning from the Shalm to the reverence of demon lords and the Reaper. Eventually, after the demon-seeing clans had conquered the others, they turned their avaricious eyes to the people of the Iron Hills, and sought to conquer further. The hill tribes prayed to the gods whose faces and hands they had carved, asking for guidance and aid.
Zodal took pity on them once again
The gods answered, in their way. A God-Carver named Xogetep, said to have been a descendant of Xartep, journeyed into the high peaks and remained there for the month of Sunsebb and the week of Needfest. After this time he came down, emaciated but with a look of enlightenment. The gods had granted him a vision, he said. No longer would the hill people only carve the great gods of the peaks: minor gods, descendants of the great ones, could be carved as well, and these gods would walk. They would raise their stone fists to defend the people, and march with their stone feet against their foes. Under the instructions of Xogetep the God-Carvers went to work, and the first stone golems, the Walking Gods, were created.
The first battle between the loathsome cultists of the lowlands and the people of the hills, newly bolstered by the aid of their Walking Gods, was decisive, and every battle thereafter proved similarly one-sided. Despite the gruesome undead and occasional minor demon the northerners could summon, the implacable soldiers of stone, with their home-terrain advantage and seeming invulnerability to both the cultists’ spears and spells, consistently won the day. The leaders of the demon-worshippers attempted to spin these defeats, but their hold over the conquered tribes was weakened. For the first time in a generation, the Flan of the lowlands north of the Iron Hills defied their fiend-seeing masters, and they began seeking out their highland cousins not to conquer them, but to learn from them. Some who proved their worthiness and good intent were even taught some of the secrets of the God-Carvers. Returning to their people with a proven alternative to the decadent ways of the demon-seers, they introduced the kinder philosophies of the mountain folk. They even animated the first of their own Walking Gods, the golems of clay who acted as representatives of the gods of stream and river. The people of the Ahlissan Plains became united under this more benign priesthood, and soon became the most powerful nation in the area, driving the demon-seeing tribes further north.
The cult of Zodal grew slowly. Some claim that his face was the most patient and kind of the great mountain visages, and his faith became the most popular of those introduced by the highland folk to the people of the lowlands, who appreciated his promise of hope in the times of greatest darkness, and his admonitions of kindness and mercy to one‘s enemies as well as one‘s neighbors. The sterner mountain gods were forgotten, and many of the myths were attributed to Zodal alone: Zodal’s mercy spared Xartep and arranged for he and Xogetep to be trained. Zodal’s goodness prevailed in the face of demonic evil. Elsewhere in the Flanaess, Zodal’s faith would later be assimilated into the worship of Rao, reducing him to the status of the Calm God’s servant, but among this people and at this time, Zodal stood alone as the greatest of their small pantheon, with only one deity as his rival: his mercurial and impatient sometime-consort, Joramy, goddess of both the high peaks and the fires said to stir below at the heart of the world, even as it stirs in the heart of humanity. Together, Joramy and Zodal represented impatience and patience, wrath and mercy, the feminine and masculine, the twin sides of the human experience.
The Songs of Glory
Among the people of the Ahlissan Plains, epics were composed describing their history and origins. The first song was the Song of Gods, which told of Xartep and Xogetep in parallel verses, telling of the gods’ mercy and benevolence in teaching their people and preparing for their battles against the forces of evil. Traditionally, it is sung in two-part harmony by two priests, with one priest singing of Xartep and one of Xogetep, with the song ending with both prophets’ enlightenment, but it may also be arranged linearly and read by a single cleric. Of the songs of the Ahlissim, the Song of Gods has become the most popular throughout the Flanaess, as golems will not awaken unless its text is read or sung. It is a difficult, allusive, metaphorical text, and it has been translated into many tongues and interpreted in many different ways by many different faiths. Its peculiar vocabulary has been a surprisingly strong influence on the idioms of the Common tongue, though it has lent no actual Flan words to it. By the Ahlissim, it is seen as a testament to Zodal’s mercy, but others have associated the vaguely-described “gods” in the text with Pholtus, Pelor, even Hextor or Wee Jas. The song is part of every Manual of Golem Creation, and forms a preface for many nonmagical holy books as well. The hills in the story variously represent mortal existence, the celestial mountain which ascends the Seven Heavens, or even the descending pit of the Nine Hells, depending on the other books grouped with it. While the Ahlissim see the various “perversions” the text has been subjected to as blasphemy, neither golems nor gods seem to care about the song’s origins.
The second song is the Song of Sorrow, which tells of the coming of the monstrous races, driving the people away from the old hill gods, where the pacified and educated people of the rivers permitted them refuge. The long song tells of the many battles against the monstrous euroz and jebli tribes, cumulating in the ultimate defeat of the mountain peoples, and their salvation in the river valley below. This text is also sometimes used by other faiths, grouped together with the Song of Gods, but often it is not. It is a universal story for those in the monster-haunted Flanaess, often used as a metaphor for hardship or sin, but is has no known use in the creation of magic items. Some have opined that golems who have been created with the Song of Sorrow as well as the Song of the Gods are less likely to go rogue, but this has not been proven, and is not accepted by most experts in the subject.
Refugees from Itar
After the death of their god Vathris, many Itarians fled across Relmor Bay to the Ahlissan lands, their craftsmen taking on Ahlissan apprentices and sharing much of the knowledge and culture they had preserved with the locals. As Itar was consumed by the evil of Sulm, Ahlissa grew all the stronger. None of the surviving epics mention this, as it did not mesh with the Ahlissan national pride to credit foreigners with any of their success. Even so, the Itarian contribution was considerable.
Queen Ehlissa the Enchantress
The people of the Thelly River had many kings and queens over the centuries, but by far the greatest and most remembered was Ehlissa, the only daughter of King Ehric and Queen Lissa, who began her centuries-long reign at the tender age of 16, while still a maiden, and had her womb rendered sterile from a grevious wound while leading her people into battle. She was healed by her loyal comrade, the high priestess of Joramy, Johanna, but she would never be able to bear children. To compensate, Ehlissa swore she would remain alive until a worthy heir could be found, and thus began her quests into life-extending magics that brought alchemists and crafters of all sorts to her court, the greatest of which was the legendary Xagy.
Descended from both the ancient God-Carvers of the mountains and refugees from Itar, Xagy was the greatest craftsman of his line, able to invest devices of unsurpassed intricity with the same elemental spirits that empowered the golems, no longer seen as gods by the more sophisticated people of his day.
Attracted by Queen Ehlissa’s promises of patronage, Xagy came to the court, and made many wonders for the queen. Still, his masterpiece, the Nightingale, was only possible when Joramy herself granted a boon. The goddess known as the Raging Volcano had been long-forgotten, abandoned in the hills, her worship lost with the coming of the savage races, but Ehlissa supported the rebirth of her church, choosing Joramy as her own patron since she credited the goddess for saving her life, if not her fertility. It is said that Joramy herself incarnated in the body of her priestess Johanna, or even that Xagy discovered a way to bind the spirit of the goddess herself within the jeweled body of the Nightingale he crafted.
Some say that Xagy died before completing the final sigils that would have bound the goddess permanently to the bird. Others say he lived, but fled the court as Ehlissa grew increasingly unstable, settling down in the city of Astrav, where he retired and raised his children in isolation from the intrigues of the court.
The Song of Queens
The Song of Queens begins with the long geneology of Queen Ehlissa, tracing her maternal ancestry back to the legendary maiden whose goodness and determination defeated the vile cultists of Demogorgon, saving herself from being sacrificed, and who eventually became the leader of her tribe and the mother of all the queens of the Ahlissan Plains tribes. She married Anandix, the first of the lowland God-Makers, and their line cumulated in their last heir, Ehlissa the Enchantress.
The Song of Queens enumerates Ehlissa’s deeds and battles, the creation of the Marvelous Nightingale and the long centuries and increasing madness of her reign, until the death of the queen and the Nightingale’s subsequent loss. The song ends with a listing of the next queens to reign, the descendents of the priestess Johanna, until the reign of King Okram, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Ahlissa.
The Song of Queens was accepted into the canon of the Church of Aerdy very early on in the history of the Great Kingdom, the epic associated with Aerdy national pride after the Holy Censor of Medegia decreed that Queen Ehlissa was a Child of Johydee whose words were true prophecy and presaged the coming of the Hidden Empress. Outside the Ahlissim, it is not considered a holy text by anyone else.
The Song of Kings
The last Flannae Ahlissan epic is the story of Okram and his doomed battle against the Aerdi invaders. Unlike the other songs, this one has always been surpressed by the Aerdi for obvious reasons, but still it has survived, more or less intact, among the Flan minority in South Province. The Ahlissim consider it an inspired work granted to them by their gods.