“Jotun, mursaat, forgotten, seer, dwarf. Five against six. It seems so unfair. And, yet…” ~ Scholar Trueclaw
- What are you going on about? Freyja asked.
She was on her way to the Priory’s Library when the Scholar’s rambling caught her attention. The young charr raised her head and looked at Freyja. Wearing that investigative look all Durmand Priory members had in common convinced her that she could share her reverie with the towering norn before her.
- It is accepted that there were five sentient races who fought the Elder Dragons the first time and survived. Five that we know of. This was a very long time ago, you see and I’m afraid none of them are coming forward with helpful information…
Freyja’s mind took a step back. She didn’t hear anything else the charr said. She recalled of this race whose members were more than reluctant in sharing their knowledge about the world. A race whose trace was as old as the oldest inhabited continent in Tyria and yet, so mysterious and cryptic to even the most studied scholar. No, the information she inquired wasn’t to be found in any of the Library books. She needed to do field work once again. Smiling, she turned around. “Who needs books when you have a sharp brain and a keen eye”, she thought. “And a big greatsword, too”, her norn pride added. Still smiling, she entered the asura portal to Lion’s Arch.
She made her way to the White Crane Terrace where a huge stone wall blocked the passage west. This massive barricade was erected long before her time, nearly a century ago, when waves of Canthan tengu exiles washed upon the shores of Kryta. She walked up to the nearest feathered guard of the Wall and stood at a non-threatening distance from him. If she wanted to get any information out of them she’d have to appear friendly and…. uhm, safe. Most races in Tyria didn’t like standing too close to norn anyway. Or norn standing too close, period.
- Hold it there norn. This is as close as we allow anyone to approach to the wall.
Freyja halted, not desiring to further unsettle the already touchy guard. “What is this place?” she asked as kindly as she could master.
- This is our dwelling, the Dominion of the Winds. We keep watch from this perch as power shifts and the world is transformed. We must soon determine with whom we will fight and with whom we will ally.
- What has led to this deep distrust of other races?
- It is not for me to speak of these things to your kind. Perhaps in time, should your race prove worthy.
This was not the first time Freyja had heard a tengu speak these words. She vaguely remembered Yuki (what has his last name again?) who had once said the same to her. Following Scarlet’s attack on the city, Yuki had gone missing. Freyja liked to think he had retreated inside the safety of these walls and not met with the same fate as so many of the denizens of Lion’s Arch. Anyway, the reason she remembered Yuki was not his lines – it was his plumage. As far as she could tell, he was the only Avicara tengu she had come across in all her journeys!
The Avicara tribe lived in the Shiverpeaks, far to the east. Well, not that far really. Last time anyone heard of them, they were still occupying Mineral Springs, a region to the south east of Hoelbrak, just a stone’s throw away from her home stead. She made a mental note to visit them at the first chance she’d get. Their distinctive white plumage was their trademark, as well as their keen hunting skills. Similarly to their brethren of the Quetzal tribe, they were fierce hunters and not at all friendly to outlanders.
The Quetzal… The green-feathered predators of the jungle. If her memory served her well, the members of this tribe used to dwell in two regions of Tyria – quite apart from one another. In the Verdant Cascades, to the north east of Divinity’s Reach, was the perch of the northern group – now base of centaur operations and, quite possibly, still home to the ettin. The Quetzal of the south used to reside on the coastal areas of Tarnished Coast. When the Great Tsunami flooded Alcazia Tangle along with Battle Isles and most all coastal areas of Tyria, in 1219 AE, the Quetzal fled north. Freyja suspected they relocated to Caledon Forest first, where their Caromi brethren were known to dwell. However, for reasons she could only theorize about, they departed again sooner or later to look for a new place to make their perch. Nowadays they live on the canopy of Auric Basin, preying on the ignorant and those who are foolish enough to ignore their notices to trespassers and decide to cross their territory. Quite possibly, they are the only hostile tengu tribe in existence today.
Freyja decided there was nothing more she could gain from talking to these guards. She mentally pulled a straw and headed out west, for Caledon Forest. A short distance away from the Ruins of the Unseen, now a buzzing skritt colony, lies Hanto Trading Post: a small bazaar where asura and tengu co-exist, each bent on their own occupations. She approached the tengu merchants, having low expectations as to the knowledge she could gain from them: these were not your Nicholas the Traveler kind of merchants, wandering the world and becoming all knowing. As far as she had heard, they only ever made the trip between this place and their city, a short distance to the east, to re-stock on supplies and merchandise.
- I have been directed here by your fellow people in Lion’s Arch, she introduced herself to Shou, a mauve-feathered guard. “Are more of you coming out of your fortress?”
- We have come to understand the importance of trade, if that’s what you mean. Our emperor wishes for us to expand our influence in the world’s markets.
- You have an emperor?
- No. Our venerable emperor has us. It is our honor to serve.
Freyja tried learn more about them from Soar Goldbeak who seemed to run the place, but she got nowhere. She said her goodbyes and walked away. She continued to the south, along the shore of Quetzal Bay. “Quetzal…” she thought. “It seems that they indeed used to live here. Well, maybe once, but no more”. She came to the base of Titan’s Staircase where a massive bridge was found, cutting the Bay area in half. She stood at her end of it and looked across.
At the other side lay the enormous western entrance to the tengu homeland, the Dominion of the Winds. Only from this distance one could get a good clear view of this incredible construct. It span from dead north to dead south, as far as the eye could see, rising sky high. The wall was adorned with gigantic sculptures of what appeared to be animal heads. The more she looked at them, the more baffled she became. Unless she was very mistaken, these looked like… elephant heads! But she couldn’t remember reading anything about that species living in these lands, ever. It was safe to assume that the peoples who constructed, or at least decorated the Wall had seen members of this species in the lands where they came from. There was also a pattern in their placement: two male(?) heads, placed diagonally one above the other, with a kind of pagoda shaped watchtower on top of each and 3 pairs of tusks, followed by two female(?) ones – no watchtower and fewer tusks. Freyja made a rough sketch of the heads in her scrapbook before walking, casually, instead of her natural stride, towards the group of tengu guarding the entrance to the Dominion of the Winds.
- Halt! You will advance no further, cried Hayato, another Caromi guard. “The aerie is off limits”.
- What is this place? Freyja inquired.
- This is Dominion of the Wings and it is our home. It has been for a hundred years and we do not welcome intrusions in our serenity.
- Don’t you want to trade with others?
- We trade as needed. We travel out into the world, to Hanto Trade Post for example. We do not allow the world in. The weapons we produce sell well in your markets and we are happy to trade there.
- So only tengu live behind these walls then? Freyja kept at it, as innocent as could be.
- Yes. The inhabitants here came from all over the world, replied Hayato. “Each of the four houses has their own preferences and is a mixture of tribes”.
- All over the world? Aren’t you from Cantha?
- Some of our ancestors came from Cantha. A descendant of the venerable Silverwing led our people here through waves of Orrian corruption. Many others however came from Elona and other parts of Tyria. They migrated here from all over, seeking safe haven from the Great Tsunami.
Freyja looked at the other Caromi sentry, to her right. He seemed unwilling to engage in any kind of dialogue. As a matter of fact, he appeared to be trying to avoid Hayato’s presence in particular. A few steps behind the two stood the leader of this small group, yielding a longbow of unparalleled beauty and looking even more forbidding and reticent. Apparently there was nothing more anyone was willing to share here, so she decided to move on. She hadn’t taken more than four steps, when something flashed in her brain. She turned around and looked at the Caromi guards, examining them. “Hmm… this is both interesting and curious” she muttered, and wrote something down in her scrapbook.
Her last stop would be Iroko Tradepost, in Kessex Hils. Similar to Hanto, this place was the only other spot in Tyria where the Dominion tengu were known to trade with the other races. Weapons and armor of high quality can be found here, crafted by the skillful tengu smiths. The two places would look very much the same – tengu merchants in their tents, asura krew bossing around a couple of golems, and a few bystanders, human and sylvari mostly- if it weren’t for the very notable presence of the Caromi guards. Seven of them kept a very vigilant and keen eye on the two tall tents that sheltered their precious merchandise. Freyja approached one of them, who was looking discreetly but inquisitively at her and introduced herself.
- I am Genzhou Talonrend, the tengu replied politely, “formerly of the Talonrend clan”.
- Why did you leave your clan? Freyja asked him, quite surprised in fact.
- I decided to sacrifice my own happiness to help save the world. You see, my people remember things that too many others have forgotten. Lest they be reminded, the worst will certainly come.
- What things? she asked him. “Can you give me an example?”
- Of course. Did you know this is not the first time the dragons have risen? This may –or may not- be the last though. This remains to be seen.
Freyja paused to think about that for a moment. She remembered Taimi going on about the dragons and their energy, how they complemented one another and other incomprehensible things her little ingenious friend rambled about. She also recalled reading about how the Elder Dragons were supposedly keeping the magic of the world at normal levels, in order to prevent destruction. She chatted a bit longer with Genzhou, allowing herself a short break. Next she decided to take a walk along the northern wall, to ponder over what she had learned and at the same time observe this section of the Dominion’s fortification. Did it share the same decorative motif as the western part or was it different? She came across an empty tengu merchant’s tent, some of the goods still lying about or inside stacked crates. Freyja sighed. She could imagine the haste with which the owner of this small fortune must have left – assuming of course he had the chance in the first place. When the Tower of Nightmares appeared in the middle of Viathan lake, spewing noxious abominations all around Tyria, many were affected in equally numerous ways. Scarlet’s legacy to these lands was very rich. The dead were at least spared from poverty, orphanage, bad dreams and Scarlet’s Rattle – to name but a few of her ‘gifts’.
She continued east, crossing an area known as Dominion Killing Zone. Freyja could only guess the reasons this place took its name after – not ‘hunting’, but ‘killing’. Who was the hunter here, who was the prey? This area was notorious for one thing: destroyer burrows. A huge fissure had appeared just outside the Wall, which in a short time became a festering source of Primordus’s minions. Ever since his awakening, in 1120 AE, his magmatic creatures have been steadily increasing in numbers and places of appearance. She climbed a short but steep hill, draped in volcanic fumes, to get a better view of the Wall here. Yes, the elephant(?) heads were more than visible on this section as well. But the Wall itself was lower than its Caledon Forest counterpart. There was only one row of animal heads, without any watchtowers. “Wait… what was that?”, she asked herself. “Watchtowers? By the Leopard’s spots, there aren’t even any guards here!” she realized in utter surprise.
How could this even be possible? Who in their right minds would leave not just unguarded, but entirely unattended a place where the enemy, one of many probably, was hyper-active? On their very doorstep! Who could tell how expanded the burrows network was, or where it could erupt next? She remembered something Ghenzou told her, about destroyers making their appearance on both sides of the wall lately. Freyja didn’t think of tengu as neither naive nor ignorant. If they sort of abandoned this part of the Wall, it must have meant one of two things: the destroyers had penetrated the outer perimeter here, emerged on the other side and either hit a dead end because of the water mass that separated Kessex Hills from the island of Sanctum Cay, or there was an inner wall where the battle was being fought today.
There was nothing she could learn here –and those endless destroyer hordes were quickly becoming a nuisance. She moved on, towards the east again, mentally following the Wall’s direction. Her broad strides brought her past Cereboth Canyon, to the amazing vista overlooking Wizard’s Fief. She looked briefly below her, at the beautiful port town of Garenhoff, where its human denizens lived harmoniously with the tamed Elementals – living off of them, some among them thought in mistrust. Then she turned her gaze south. Lifting her head and shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare, she took a good long view of the spectacle of the area that was none other than the Wizard’s Tower.
This ‘floating island castle in the sky’ had always fascinated and thrilled people of all races, coming here from all over the world, to gaze and frequently gape upon it. There were as many theories about it as the visitors it got annually – revolving around its origin and its inhabitants. The only thing anyone knew for a fact (which was also debatable really, since no one had ever seen him in person) was that its present owner was a ‘benevolent wizard’ name Isgarren. Where did he come from, when did he arrive and whose place had he taken, how old was he, was he even a he? Freyja had heard and read about the stories, the theories, some wilder than others naturally, but she had her own. Not so much her own theories, as much as questions that excited her.
One in particular was related to her current research, maybe. Why had the Tower been relocated in recent years – and when exactly had this taken place? Was it Isgarren’s doing or did his predecessor steer the island here? And why? Why was the ages-old location, just off Kessex Peak, no longer a good one? Was it because of the tengu’s mass immigration to this area? Did their expanded settlement and the establishment of the Dominion of the Winds with its massive surrounding walls which reached to the sky, disturb the Tower’s owner at the time? Or was there a mutual agreement between the weary refugees and the benevolent wizard, that it would be to the best interest of both if they put some distance between their places of residence?
Freyja shook her head, like she’d done every time she started thinking about the Tower and the mysteries it held. There was no way she could find answers to these questions unless she could interview Isgarren him- (or her-) self. Alternatively, she firmly believed the tengu knew about the Tower as they surely knew about so many other stuff, too. But they were always so reluctant to share, so keeping to themselves all these years. She had to find a way to talk to the people inside the Dominion, even get access to their library if possible! Her Priory heart jumped at the prospect of what she could find there.
Who resided inside those colossal walls then? Who built them, who built this place to hide away from prying eyes and haunting perils and, above all, what legacy were they so bound on protecting and preserving? Unless she could penetrate these unbreachable walls (and since she was neither a destroyer or a dredge) she decided that field work was done, at least for now. It was time she brought out the scholar in her – or, in her own words, “turn bookworm”.
[Minutes later, Durmand Library]
In 1127 AE, Emperor Usoku became the ruler of Cantha. Determined to put an end to the ongoing conflicts between humans and tengu, as well as the civil war of the two tengu tribes, Angchu and Sensali, that was often too costly in human lives as well, he took severe measures to purge the empire from all non-humans. The Ministry of Purity, who had initiated this process even before Emperor Usoku’s rule, was more than zealous to assist him in this undertaking. As a result, tengu population begun to shrink and many took to hiding in the wilds. A generation of pogrom later, in 1219 AE, Zhaitan rose from his watery bed forcing the Orr peninsula to the surface of the Sea of Sorrows. The tidal waves caused by this catastrophic event were unprecedented in size and force, reforming the lands wherever they crushed. Cantha continent was not spared either.
When the Great Tsunami, as the tengu named it, hit the shores of Shing Jea Island, many humans rushed inlands to save themselves from its devastating force. This brought them near or in some cases inside the Angchu tribe settlements, who were historically in friendly terms with humans – at least until Emperor Usoku had begun his genocidal crusade. On the other hand, the Sensali tribe members, who had always resided in the Nahpui Quarter of Kaineng City, found themselves surrounded by a rapidly growing number of unfriendly humans, as those of the latter who lived on the seaside part of the city flooded the inland to escape the tsunami. The pressure put on both tribes was suffocating. Day after day, the persecutions increased until they soon reached a point where Ministry guards would put tengu to death in public, without even the pretext of a trial. To escape the certain decimation, the leader of the Angchu decided there was only one way out, only one path of salvation: to flee Cantha.
The bustling economic hub that was Kaineng City had ships sailing in from every major port of the world – and equally as many leaving the Center’s harbor, to transfer their precious cargo to other lands. One of the many landings for the Canthan cargo ships, since ancient times, was the beautiful town of Sanctum Cay. Sailors and merchants had carried the word of tengu living in those parts, unhindered by enemies in an open, big world of wonders and opportunities. The two tribes decided overnight to make sail and try their luck there, starting anew. There was grave danger ahead, this wasn’t going to be an easy journey for sure. The risen fleet, Zhaitan’s marine army, dominated the waters between Cantha and Kryta. However, there was no real choice to make here: they would either stay here until they got killed off, or try take their chances across the Unending Ocean.
Facing dangers untold, months later, the helm ship of the tengu fleet spotted the lights of Kryta’s largest port town in the horizon. As they sailed nearer, fighting their way among risen ships, floating debris and the swollen corpses of the drawn, they made a staggering discovery: the lights they could see from a distance belonged neither to the famous lighthouse nor to the port’s docks. It was the glow of the fires kept up by the survivors of the city that once was Lion’s Arch, to keep warm – or burn the piles of the dead, or undead. What was left of this once great city after the waves of the tsunami had retreated, was just rumble and wreckage, made of stone, wood and people. Seamen, fishermen and merchants and pirates, mingled with traders, warriors or simple townsmen, all of them sharing the same, miserable fate… trying to find their footing in a topsided world and make a new start.
The tengu fleet turned west and headed for Sanctum Cay, in hopes that its port had somehow been spared from destruction. In 1230 AE, when they finally set foot on the island’s soil, the tengu refugees praised the Celestials and hugged each other in relief. They would make this their new home, they would live and prosper here and they would defend their legacy against all enemies – domestic and alien, of flesh and bone, or of not. To ensure this, they started by building a wall to surround their new perch. They called it ‘aerie’, in honor and remembrance of their main settlement in Cantha, capital of the Angchu tribe, on Shing Jea Island.
However, they were not complete aliens in this new land. To their great delight, they discovered that not far from their landing, the tengu spoken of by those merchants back home lived and thrived. The Caromi tribe’s settlements on Kessex Peak to the north as well as across the strait to the west were already bristling with their brown feathered brethren. They were natural hunters and warriors, trained from a young age how to fight as they had to survive and prevail among the hostile fauna of their surroundings: bog skales, monstrous tree beasts, imps and drakes – they were all but forgiving to the weak.
The immigrants’ delight was even bigger to find that the Caromi were not the only other tengu in the area. Not long after the Great Tsunami hit the coastline of Tarnished Coast, the members of the Quetzal tribe living there had to relocate in haste as well. They travelled north, cautiously staying away from a sentient species of short but notoriously sinister creatures in the west, crossing the Riven Earth chasm and passing through the dense jungle. Slashing their way through arachnids, destroyers and dinosaurs on every step, they eventually made it here. They settled among their Caromi brethren and claimed an area between Fisherman’s Haven and Sanctum Cay as their own hunting grounds.
“The Quetzal Bay”, Freyja recalled. She closed the book she was reading and looked down at its cover – ‘Riding the Wind: The Tengu Exodus’. She took a deep breath and tried to make some puzzle pieces fit together. “How long did the Quetzal stay there then? Were they ever a part of the new, united tengu community in this region? Did they help build the Dominion of the Winds and did they get to stay inside its walls at all or did they leave before it was completely established? Why did they decide to leave and, more importantly, was it their own decision or did the other tribes force them go, as they were the fiercest and less sociable of all?”. Particularly troubling this last one, as the Angchu and Sensali who’d been long sworn enemies had managed to build bridges and coexist. All these questions were swirling inside Freyja’s mind, giving her a jotun-size headache. She shook her head to see if they’d fall into place. They didn’t; instead more questions popped up. What about the Quetzal living in Auric Basin now? Are they descendants of the Alcazia Tangle tengu purely or have they been joined by peoples from the northern tribes? Unlikely as it seemed – impossible even- that the latter had crossed over the Far Shiverpeaks and sailed across Giant’s Basin, there was something that hinted towards that possibility. The ‘notice to trespassers’. Still in use today by the Auric Basin Quetzal, it was a trademark of the northern tribe back then.
She yanked her thought reins back towards the inhabitants of the Dominion. What could she deduce about them from what she had learned? The structure of the community is based on the culture of its Canthan members, as they were the ones who established the colony. There is an emperor and the official language, Old Canthan, present and they refer to it as the ‘aerie’ – again after the original Angchu settlement. She suspected that the emperor was chosen (elected?) by the entirety of the population, but maybe he or she had to be of Angchu bloodline. The Sensali, on the other hand, have been and therefore probably still are, the guardians of the Celestials. Since the Celestials were “the physical embodiment of the spirits of the stars”, they were omnipresent. Freyja had every reason to presume that the Canthan religion had been preserved and had prevailed over whatever beliefs the other tribes may have held. Within that same frame, they probably retained the Canthan idea of afterlife they call the ‘Sky above the Sky’, as well as their famed trial of Ascension, leading one to become a ‘Weh no Su’ – closer to the stars. And if there was a cast of spiritual leaders in the Dominion, be it shamans or warrior-priests, they would quite possibly be members of the Sensali.
Regardless whether any or all of the above held true, she had found out that the distinction between tribes was no longer prevalent. These days their community is made up of four houses, named after the Four Winds. Quite appropriately so, Freyja agreed, since it indicated and even honored the fact that the Dominion tengu had come together “from all over the world”, as Hayato had told her. The Angchu and Sensali tribes from the south, the Caromi and Quetzal from the west and also the north, as well as the Avicara from the east. Something flashed inside her brain! What was that Hayato had said? Some had even come from Elona?! Freyja was both surprised and baffled. She had never heard any rumors or read anything about tengu living in that continent. That’s truly something she wouldn’t think twice about investigating first hand – if only Elona hadn’t been cut off from all access by decree of the Queen, due to “dark events in the desert”.
Freyja went over her notes again and started mumbling. “Shhh, this is a library!”, someone in front of her whispered in a stern tone. Freyja lifted her head and looked at the floppy eared asura. The fire in his eyes died and his ears stopped flapping; he went back to studying his book, silent and white as a snowflake.
“Plumage”, she thought. Caromi had brown plumage, as well as the Angchu and Sensali. Quetzal’s was green, still is to this day. Avicara’s was white – but the only member of that tribe she’d ever seen (and this was just an unconfirmed assumption) was Yuki. What has caused some Caromi’s plumage today to turn mauve? Hayato for example, had the ‘new’ color while the Caromi guard next to him had the ‘original’, brown one. Freyja could make a couple of educated guesses, but that’s all they were: change of eating habits (though they still eat raw meat, always have), change of climate, mixing with the other tribes, being the most prominent ones. The fact that the Quetzal tengu maintain their ‘original’, so to speak, color suggests they did not live among the other tribes too long.
“Another dead end, another wall”, she sighed. There was a noise of shuffling papers. The asura Scholar picked up his books and notes and departed for the other end of the Library room without even daring to cross eyes with Freyja. “Wall it is then”, she decided and looked at the sketch she’d made, of the Wall decoration.
She wondered about that animal head (if it was indeed that), the pattern and its significance (if there was one to begin with), and its height. “Why build such fortifications?” she wondered. “Were they meant to offer protection against a new tsunami? Or perhaps a dragon attack?”. That last thought was even more disturbing than all the others combined. “And what about the gates then? Equally tall and broad, as if something very large resided inside – beast or weapon?”. Even more troubling thoughts. The fact that there were no gates on Lion Arch’s side or towards the Dominion Killing Grounds in the north only added to the mystery. It was more than evident that the ‘neighbors’ in those areas were considered either extremely dangerous or very, very unwelcomed.
Freyja opened up the book she was holding to a page which had drawn her attention. Written by Genzhou Talonrend, whom she’ve met in person, it read:
“Tengu have always build perches to watch the world turn, but sometimes we are pushed off by great gusts… Now we see the world ripped by dragon’s teeth and send a message of survival to all the races. We believe in taking flight.”
They fled in the past, when the odds were against them, lending to their race being perhaps the last ancient sentient one still alive. Now trouble, big trouble, has come knocking on their tall, barricaded doors once again. Is this what they intend to do again? “Take flight”? Or will they stand their ground, offer their invaluable knowledge and combat skills to the rest of the fighting races – “determine with whom we will fight and with whom we will ally”, in the words of that Caromi guard in Lion’s Arch?
She could only pray they would not be too late before they made the right choice. The only choice, in fact.
- Map snippets are taken from that_shaman‘s ‘Historical Guide to Tyria‘. All kudos and rights belong to him.
- Use of… ‘author’s permit’ has been exercised in one of the paragraphs, in case some keen eye spots a conflict between text and picture ;p
- An… unlawful idea was born inside Freyja’s head in the process of writing this article. It has slowly begun growing into an obsession. I’ll keep you posted
(to be continued…)