Origins of Cholen and Tilamaire

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Origins of Cholen and Tilamaire is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.

A Song Silenced: Of Cholen and Tilamaire

The following is transcribed from an oral history passed down through generations of Mhoragian halfling storytellers. The origins of the tale are unknown.

Music and Rhythm

In the times before the coming of the lesser races, there were only the drakes and the Arkati. Most drakes were solitary creatures, preferring to keep their own company and that of their servants, but this was not always the case.

Once in a great while, two drakes, or three--but rarely more than that--would come together in communion known as the cyvail. They would lift their ancient voices in a great music. This song was of such terrible power that all beasts for many miles bent their heads in awe, and the very ground would tremble from its beauty.

It was amidst one of these rarest of concords that the Arkati Cholen, Jastev, and Tarandel were born to the Arkati Imaera and Eonak. The three came into being, as Arkati did, fully formed, embracing one another. And in their first breaths, they joined in the song of the drakes.

Jastev was a strange child from the start, keeping to himself, ever tormented by his knowledge of the future. From the very beginning, though, Tarandel and Cholen were inseparable. Cholen delighted in weaving complex harmonies with melodies that flowed like lifeblood, and Tarandel’s were the lyrics that whispered to the heart’s most secret longings. Legend holds that the words he sang could shape stone or kindle fire, for he had been born with the power of the cyvail in the fabric of his being.

Theirs were not the petty machinations of Eorgina, or the bravery and boldness of Kai. They cared only for one another and the service of the greater art. Often they performed for this drake or that one, and all came to love them for their unsurpassed talent. It is said that the winds became fair and warm when carrying their music. So, too, were the quakings of the earth gentled, and even the rage of Phoen’s blazing eye in the skies was diminished when he looked down upon the two at their work.

But then came the Ur.

The Ur-Daemon scourge spread across the land, an unstoppable blight. At first, Cholen and Tarandel had naught to do with the conflict. They hid, sheltered by one drake’s largesse or another. But as the drakes dwindled in number and the power of the Ur-Daemons grew, they could make music no more and were constantly in flight for their lives.

This proved the source of the first conflict between the two. In the darkest days of the war, Kai came unto the two. They were hiding in a cold cavern in the northern reaches of the world.

“How did you find us?” asked Cholen. “We believed ourselves well-hidden.”

“You can never truly hide, for the songs you spin have calmed the surrounding snows and softened even the bite of the cold,” said Kai.

“You have doubtless come to ask us to fight,” said Cholen. “We want no part of your conflict. Go back to your war, brave soldier.”

Yet Tarandel said, “Wait. I wish to hear him.” Tension passed between the two for the first time. It grew, a sharp and unexpected ache, as Kai told them of a plan to end the conflict, to seal the way between this world and the eldritch madness from whence the Ur came. This fight, he explained, was not that of a few Arkati and the remaining drakes. It was the struggle of all things on Elanthia. And when he finished, he looked at them expectantly, sure that his pleas had made some impact.

“No,” said Cholen.

But at the same time, Tarandel said, “I will fight.”

There was no time to discuss things in rational terms. Cholen cried and cajoled and cursed, but Tarandel would not be swayed. He saw, in his heart of hearts, that Elanthia’s fate hung by a thread that was about to snap. If the Ur-Daemons won, there would never again be song.

So Tarandel left with Kai.

Little is known of the last battle of the Ur-Daemon war. It shook the foundations of reality and changed the ordering of things, but at the last, the Ur were driven back into the darkness. Few returned from the battle, and Tarandel was not among them.

Kai returned to the icy cavern where Cholen and Tarandel had hidden, his heart heavy with the sad news. But Cholen was gone, and the snows were fierce and the cold its sharpest. He and his music were gone.

What Kai did not know is that Cholen had, at last, followed after Tarandel. He arrived too late to the battle, and found only ruin and wreckage. On the blackened and pocked expanse, he discovered Tarandel, breathing his last breaths.

“You came,” said Tarandel. “How did you find me?”

“We were born as one and always shall be,” said Cholen. “But you are dying, and I have come to die as well.”

“No. I will not have that,” said Tarandel.

“But I am naught without you.”

“Music has never needed lyrics to touch the heart,” Tarandel said. “You must live on. This is my last request of you. I give to you all that remains of me. Safeguard it in my name.”

With his final breath, he shaped a word in the tongue of the cyvail. His essence joined with Cholen’s, and then the Lord of Song was alone and weeping on a shattered field.

Time passed. In that dim era, the Time of Rebuilding, the mortal races spread across the ravaged face of Elanthia, and the Arkati ascended to mastery over all. But not Cholen. Not a whisper of his music graced the land.

Without him, and without the magic of the drakes, music dwindled. Creatures no longer sang to one another. Crickets chirped, but did not make of their chirping a symphony. The cries of birds became discordant and were no joy to hear.

Song remained, of course, but it was a rough and primitive thing, with little beauty. Elves sang to keep their history alive, sharing crude sagas among each other as they roved in bands across the tattered land. Dwarves belted their defiance at the near-dead world as they shared in bitter drink. And humans, the simplest of all, sang by their campfires, lifting their voices with no regard for beauty or rhythm.

As the world recovered, the mortal races rediscovered the making of music, but it was a slow process with no Arkati to guide them. Humans, most of all, found it difficult to push forward the art. For most, this was of little import. They had other things to worry about, like the success of this week’s hunt or that season’s crops. But most were not Tilamaire.

From a young age, Tilamaire was burdened with a fear that something was missing in the world. He was too young and too mortal to have ever known the halcyon days when the music of Cholen and Tarandel sang on every breeze, but nonetheless, he felt their lack.

He listened to the winds whispering through the willows outside his childhood home, and knew, somehow, that song should be there. He heard the wolves barking to each other in the night, and felt the absence of their cries to the newborn moon.

When he came to manhood, he traveled among the elves and the dwarves, and that was how he learned of Cholen. By then, millennia had passed since the Lord of Song had been seen, and his memory had passed beyond legend and into myth.

From the instant he discovered Cholen’s name, Tilamaire became consumed with the desire to find him. He strapped his crude lute onto his back and threw his cloak on his shoulders, and left to seek the music.

First, he went to the priests of Kai, for it was said that the Master of War was the last to see Cholen. He asked them to call upon their Arkati in communion, but they refused, for in those days, priests were more aware of their place in the world. For a year and a day he lived among them, softening their hearts with his songs, and then he asked again. This time, they did not refuse.

In a ceremony of blood and pounding drums, they called out to Kai. All that came to them was the image of a frozen land ravaged by cruel snows. It was not much, but Tilamaire thanked them and went forth, guided with only a rough-drawn sketch of what they had seen.

For days he wandered in the wilds, heading ever northward. By day, he roved and hunted for food, and by night, he staved off the bite of frost by playing his lute. At last, after weeks of searching, he found a place that looked like the drawing the priests of Kai had given to him.

There was a gash in the land, black and empty. He fashioned torches from the barren branches of the surrounding trees, hunted until he had enough food for several days, and then descended into the earth.

This was the cavern that Cholen and Tarandel had inhabited during the Ur-Daemon War. But what was hospitable for Arkati was an endless warren for a mere man. For days, Tilamaire wandered in the dark. He burned through his stores of food, and then subsisted on cave mosses and wriggling grubs. He drank of the frigid, brackish waters flowing through the earth. Hunger gnawed at him at all hours, but he cast it aside and sang to himself, delving down into the dark.

One by one, his torches dwindled away, until all were spent and gone. This was a greater worry, for he had accustomed himself to surviving with little food, but he could not travel without light. There, in the waning flickers of his last torch, he wept as he made a pained decision. Heart heavy with regret, he broke his lute and turned it into kindling. From that kindling he made a fire, and from that fire, he drew a single burning brand.

With this last torch, he set forth on a final voyage down into the inky black. Fire was licking at his fingertips by the time that he came to a vast cavern. He threw the torch down, cradling his burnt fingers as the fire’s dying light reflected off of the icy walls.

“Is this it?” he asked the darkness. “Is this where Music dwelled?”

As if in answer, the firelight quickened the shadow of a shape on the ground. Tilamaire went to it and lifted it to his eyes, squinting to see the curved shape of wood. It was a lyre, or what remained of one. The strings had long since turned to dust.

Yet it was made of wood. Tilamaire hurried over to his spent brand, thinking to kindle a fresh flame. Then, in the space of a few steps, the fire guttered out, and with it, his spirits.

He lay down on the ground and wept. His tears turned to ice as they struck the cavern floor. The cold, staved off by his songs and hopes for so long, raced hungrily in to claim him.

“Why do you weep?” asked a voice in the dark. “Death is nothing to fear. You, who have ventured into the heart of winter, should know that mortal souls shall pass beyond the Ebon Gate and be safe for eternity. O, to be mortal!”

Tilamaire shook his head. “I do not weep for death. I weep for the children that are as I was; as I am. The ones who hear the absence of song.”

The speaker ventured closer. He was dark against darkness, but a wispy light illuminated his features. They were fine and fair, but burdened with great pain.

“What absence? There is still song. I have heard you singing in the dark, after all.”

“Perhaps you do not hear it as I do,” said Tilamaire, mindless with cold and privation. “The power of song is diminished, and all things are diminished with it. Do you not hear the uneven rhythm of your heart? The discord in the whispers of the wind? No, I suppose not.”

“I know more than you think, mortal,” said the figure, his voice suddenly incensed.

“Then you know, as I do, that this world could be bettered if Music’s patron had not derelicted his duties.”

Enraged, the shadowed figure lifted his hands, and at once the cavern was bathed in harsh light. The stranger appeared as a man scarcely older than Tilamaire, but his eyes were old beyond reckoning. He was clad in a robe of darkest crimson and brightest gold.

“Pretend I do not,” said Cholen, Lord of Song, “and show me.”

Tilamaire could scarcely stand, but Cholen offered no assistance. He labored to his feet and fought the quaking of his knees. His voice was but a frail croak.

“My lute is broken and burnt, and my body is spent and bitten by frost,” said Tilamaire.

“Show me music, and not excuses,” Cholen answered. “The voice has never needed accompaniment.”

Tilamaire steeled himself. Knowing that he, too, would soon gutter out like all of his torches, he drew a ragged breath and began to sing. He sang the song that had been brewing in his heart as he searched. As desperate his desire and as dire his circumstances, the song was exultant. Into its measures, he had breathed all of his expectant joy at finding Music and bringing it back into the world. He now knew that joy to be false, his hopes futile, but he sang anyway.

For accompaniment, he had no instrument. But his feeble human heartbeat was all the percussion he needed. As he sang, he began to dance, more to warm himself than to perform for Cholen. As the song proceeded, he lost himself in its passion, and became a flurry of fluid limbs and wild twirls.

In one last stanza, coming to him as he sang, he pled directly to Cholen. Then the music came to an end, and with it the accompaniment of his mortal heartbeat.

Tilamaire fell to the ground, gasping for breath, looking on the Lord of Song as his sight began to dim. To his surprise, he found tears on the god’s face.

“Silly fool,” said Cholen. “To have spent yourself on one so unworthy as I.”

He knelt next to the dying Tilamaire, weeping as he had not since Tarandel had passed. “Can you forgive me, great Tilamaire, for failing so many? I failed Tarandel, and my people, and yours, and you. I have so many amends to make.”

“I cannot do this alone,” said Cholen. A look of resolution came over his features. “But perhaps I do not need to be alone any longer.”

He laid his hands on Tilamaire’s still chest. With all his might, he tore free a part of himself: the immortal essence that had once been Tarandel’s. It traveled down his arms and into the dying minstrel. For a moment, silence ruled the cavern.

Then came a heartbeat. It was even and perfect and never-ending. Tilamaire drew breath once more.

Cholen lifted the minstrel, his new companion, from the icy ground. In a swirl of color, they stood upon the icy plain above. There, the winds embraced them, and they howled through the trees, singing a plaintive song.

“Come,” said Cholen. “We have work to do.”