Call of the Vigilant
For millennia, t’skrang from all over Barsaive have traveled to the Mid Reach to walk the Pilgrimage Route, which stretches from Ayodhya to the Cliff City of House Syrtis. The ancient footpath runs close by the Serpent River for 15 days’ journey and passes through some of the most revered t’skrang sacred sites. On nights of the full moon, it is said that the path’s smooth white paving stones glow with a soft light.
T’skrang say that those who tread the white stones walk a path of purity and communion with the Passions, and observations of magicians who have visited the path seem to support that contention. The route passes several places that were warped or corrupted by Horrors, but even in such areas the path itself remains safe ground where magicians can cast raw magic without risking the usual dangers.
Unfortunately, the pilgrimage route begins at the hill of Ayodhya—which is where the Therans landed their massive behemoth that marked their return. No one has been able to walk the pilgrimage route since.
Ayodhya rises more than 160 yards from the plains southwest of Lake Ban and dominates the surrounding landscape for miles. According to t’skrang legend, the Old Man of the Nets ordered his children to carry his chair to Ayodhya and build his funeral pyre atop the hill when he knew his time had come to die. (Ayodhya literally translates as “spirit chair.”) When they had finished doing as their father had asked, the Old Man’s children turned to him for guidance, but found he had died while they worked. They placed his body and chair in the middle of the pyre and set the wood ablaze. Although the Old Man’s body burned to ash in the flames, his wooden chair resisted the fire. The children then carried the chair back to the Island of Reeds in Lake Ban and set it at the foot of the table in their niall’s dining hall. On certain days of the year, the Old Man’s spirit appeared in the chair during the evening meal, dispensing wisdom and retelling the tales of his many adventures. To this day many t’skrang nialls set aside a chair for the niall’s ancestral spirits, should they decide to visit.
Interestingly, obsidimen also revere Ayodhya. Obsidiman pilgrims often climbed the spiraling path up the hill to the Liferock located at its top. The Liferock is home to a brotherhood whose members include the merchant Omasu. Why the obsidimen venerate the hill remains unknown, but the Theran’s life-draining magic has been depleting the energies of the Liferock and a number of obsidimen trapped inside since the behemoth landed. These obsidimen are imprisoned forever, and the spirit of the Liferock is doomed to wither away to nothing.
A small shrine to the spirit of the Earth, Shivos, marked the beginning of the t’skrang Pilgrimage Route at the base of the Liferock. The path then wound down the hill’s steep slopes to the river’s edge, now mostly obscured by the Theran fortress. The route follows the Serpent’s contour to a shrine to the Old Man of the Nets on the south shore of Lake Ban. From there, pilgrims boarded a small, oar-driven ferry that carried them to the Floating City of House V’strimon. Typically, pilgrims spent a day visiting each of the towers of the city, then boarded another ferry that took them to the mouth of the Coil River on the northwest shore of the lake. There, on the sandy white shoreline, lies a massive flat black rock that contains a fossilized impression resembling a grossly oversized t’skrang footprint. According to t’skrang legend, Shivoam, the dragonspirit of the Serpent River, made the footprint when she came to her husband’s marriage bed for the very first time.
From Shivoam’s Footprint, the path heads north along the lakeshore, then closely follows the contours of the Serpent River. Along this stretch, pilgrims commonly passed travelers on a dwarf caravan road that runs parallel to the pilgrims’ path. In several places, only a few yards separate the two routes. The two routes never intersect, however, for the dwarfs took great care not to cross the sacred t’skrang path when they built their caravan road (even when doing so required impressive feats of engineering).
On the fifth day of the journey, the path enters a stand of trees called the Grove of Memory. Those who pass through the grove receive visions of the past. Adepts have discovered that by carrying a magical item through the grove, one can occasionally receive insights into one of the item’s Key Knowledges. Several years ago a Wizard Named Talmagore attempted to turn this littleknown fact to his own gain. He set up a stall just outside the Grove of Memory and promised customers that he could penetrate the deepest mystery of any magic item by carrying it into the trees. He enjoyed considerable success for his first two years in business, realizing enough profit to replace his ramshackle stall with a beautiful house. Then one day he walked into the grove and never returned. His faithful servant, Grimaud, now tends Talmagore’s house. Grimaud offers bed and board to all pilgrims but refuses to set foot inside the grove for any reason.
A few days north of the Grove of Memory lies the river village of Kralipur. Kralipur is home to the Sacred Flame, which has been vigilantly guarded by the independent Unnao niall and its lahala for centuries. The source of the ever-burning flame is said to be a scale from the carapace of the Dragon of the Sun, T’schlome. Pilgrims would write prayers on reed paper, then toss them in the flame. The resulting ashes reputedly acted as charms powerful enough to ward off the undead and lesser Horrors.
As the path enters the Throal Mountains, it passes through a cave where an ancient sculptor has carved the images of the Four Founders, the legendary great dragons that created heaven and earth. The images of Shivoam, T’schlome, Shivos, and Syrtis, each as large as life, are carved in bas relief into the walls of the cavern. Legend has it that the eyes of these carvings were immense opals, each the size of dinner plate, but thieves stole them long ago. The legends go on to say that when a worthy pilgrim passes under the gaze of the Four Founders, the spirits of the first dragons will bestow a special gift of strength on him. Since the opening of the kaers, however, no pilgrim has ever reported receiving such a gift.
Deep in the mountains, the path reaches the Pool of Floranuus. The waters of this spring collect in a deep pool, and the bright red sand at the bottom of it gives the water the appearance of freshly spilled blood. Pilgrims would dive into the pool to grab a handful of this sand, for it is said a pouch of it placed under one’s pillow protects against nightmares of all kinds.
Farther north, the path enters the Canyon of a Thousand Voices. This narrow canyon acts as a natural amplification and echo chamber. A single shout may bounce between the canyon’s sheer stone walls until it becomes nearly a thousand times louder. Occasionally, a pilgrim who cries out a question would hear a second voice giving him an answer amid the echoes of his own voice.
As the path nears Lalai Gorge, it crosses over the Alidar River on a natural stone bridge. The rock formation, which arches several hundred feet above the river, is wide enough for only one person to cross at a time. Tradition states that while crossing this bridge, a pilgrim will confront a vision of his greatest fear, which he must overcome to get to the other side.
The Pilgrimage Route ends at the Pinnacle Gate of the Cliff City. From the Pinnacle Gate, the pilgrim could take in a breathtaking view of the wide ribbon of the Serpent River below him, the Caucavic Mountains across the gorge, and the highest peaks of the Throal Mountains behind him. At the Pinnacle Gate, House Syrtis maintains a large shrine to Shivoam, the dragon-spirit of the Serpent River. An attendant at the shrine greeted every pilgrim with gifts of food and an offer of shelter. Additionally, any pilgrim who could show he has visited each of the sacred places on the path received a silver medallion bearing the sign of the Dragon of the Moon.
The attendant then arranged private audiences with the Shivalahala Syrtis for all pilgrims who had completed the path. Those individuals were escorted to a special audience chamber deep inside the Cliff City. The high ceiling of the chamber contains numerous openings that channel cascades of water from the Serpent, which collects in basins on the chamber’s floor. Within this web of waterfalls, the shivalahala would await the traveler. She would speak the pilgrim’s Name and bless his journey. The pilgrim could then ask one question of the shivalahala, which she must answer if she could divine a true reply. Very few questions had ever gone unanswered, and no answers had ever been false—although quite often the shivalahala’s replies were maddeningly obscure.
This practice inspired the popular Troubadour’s tale of Loloish of Framling. According to the tale, Loloish was a common-born t’skrang who fell desperately in love with the Shivalahala Syrtis. In an effort to prove himself worthy of the shivalahala’s love, Loloish worked his way through the ranks of the aropagoi until he became captain of a riverboat. He dedicated his life and his crew to the service of the shivalahala, and eventually his Name became known to her. He revealed his heart to the shivalahala on many occasions, but she would make no answer one way or another. After much introspection, he disguised himself as a pilgrim and set out on the Pilgrimage Route. When he completed the journey, he asked his one question of the shivalahala: “Shivalahala of the Moon, dost thou love me as I love thee?” Forced to reveal the truth, the shivalahala revealed her love for Loloish, and the two lived ever after in the trust of one another’s souls.