Story of the Volnath Dai
Story of the Volnath Dai is an Official GemStone IV Document, and it is protected from editing.
The Volnath Dai
As related to and recorded by Culoney of Hendor.
Where It Began
Momentous times often are followed by momentous discoveries. This is a telling of a history that began in our Order's past, but which came to light in the strife of the present. This is the origin of the Erithian sect of the Order of Voln. This is the story of the Volnath Dai.
It began centuries ago, when the banner of Selantha Anodheles began its fateful march outward from the powerful city-state of Tamzyrr and swept away many of the last relics of an earlier empire. Under this banner, there was no place for the hathlyn, ordlyn, or sylvan, while in contrast, all were welcome beneath the Banner of the Shield, the banner of our Lord Voln. It was not our Order's fate to remain immune to the wave of gold and crimson, and so we suffered. K'Tafali's monastery was ruined, the library splintered, and the followers of many races were left with one option: flight. Among them was the Grand Master Fineval, a sylvan, pure as the snow atop the high mounts of the Dragon's Spine, and as courageous as Lord Kai himself. Few were the servants of our Lord who were of equal or greater caliber, and so it was that Master Fineval won passage for himself and his men and women from the fury of Anodheles's army and disappeared into time and became legend.
In the present era, we turn to a place beyond the Elven Seas, beyond where the vessels of the Ashrim sailed, to the forgotten continent of Atan Irith. In the city of Nathal-Ra, an Erithi was born and grew of age within the Nathal Dai. He was raised to master the martial arts, if only to abhor their application, and to see the world as one of balance. At an age when Erithi young men are filled with the wanderlust, he left the familiar shores of his homeland and rode the ocean winds into the west.
In the Southron Wastes
He landed on elven shores incognito in the time before the erithi race revealed themselves to Elanithians and began wandering. One cannot say whether the gods guided his path, but it was a fateful one that drew him ever closer to the great swathe of wastes that mark the southern part of our continent. It was perhaps one tale after another of the fantastic nature of the Southron Wastes, or it was the simple curiosity of an erithi raised by the sea to visit a land bereft of water. Either way, in the time near what we declare to be 5020, he had by one means or another traveled deep into the wastes. Unbeknownst to him, he dared where few others had explored and even less returned to speak of. While the curse of the undead were known in Atan Irith, it did not exist on the scale that it does still within our lands. There had been no Despana nor such threats as that of the Horned Cabal. Thus, it was with surprise when in the midst of a desert storm he found himself surrounded by minions of the latter and his life, even his soul, were at grave risk.
Had he perished that day, he would have become one more of the Everwandering, erithi who failed to return to Atan Irith from the journeys abroad: a flame extinguished in the silence. As we know, he did not meet death that day, but instead, warriors who emerged from the wind and sand. Their movements were practiced and without effort, as they adopted martial stances by which to release the undead of their immortal bindings. When it was over, and quickly it was finished, in amazement, he shed the disguise so carefully held since his arrival in Elanith, and thanked his saviors. One warrior among the band stepped forward, and it was then that the past and present merged: he was greeted by an elf named Fineval.
The Fate of Fineval
Many years had it been since the great Master Fineval and his followers had unwillingly turned their backs on the home that had become the Turamzzyrian Empire, and for many years after that event, he and they wandered the wilderness beyond the marches of the empire. It was to the south they were drawn and into the Southron Wastes they ventured, drawn by rumors of the presence of great evil. The wastes are not an empty place. There are those who live in them or, more accurately stated, survive in them. It was these individuals, tribes of peoples who suffer to live without realizing that there are other means to live without suffering, who spoke to Master Fineval and his company of the undead that dwelt in the depths of the wilds. As Fineval's people no longer had a life but their mission to the Lord Voln, they continued deeper and suffered the waste's natural and unnatural hazards.
It was beyond a point that native guides claimed that none could live any further that in meditation, Master Fineval was graced with a vision of our Lord and there instructed to raise a fortress. So in this place, Fineval instructed his men and women to build with stone and any other available material an outpost of the Order, and it was there that he instructed them to dig until water flowered from the earth. Deep in the depths of the wastes, before any child of Elstreth learned to fear the name of the great liches that would later besiege their city and dreams, Fineval and his followers began the Order's long battle with the Horned Cabal.
Tempered by the harsh reality of the wastes and the cruelty and might of their enemies, Fineval's Company, as they have since become known, were slowly transformed into the greatest of the Lord's servants. In this greatest of tests, Fineval's Company evolved to the purest form of combating the undead. One can attempt to describe it with many words such as, "one forged in fire" or, "one hammered into solidity." But in the simplest words, the Order in its history had never known, and perhaps might ever know again, the skill and spiritual lethality acquired by Fineval's Company. It was composed of the older Ordlyn and Sylvans who survived the trek and their offspring. They were the children of Our Lord's Fury, and unto them was bestowed from birth Our Order's righteousness. It was they whom the Pilgrim met in the depths of the Wastes and by whom he was saved.
Of Fineval's Legacy and the Pilgrim
In the centuries that Fineval's Company stood resolute in the wastes, they saw and experienced many a thing that would be alien to those native to the Turamzzyrian Empire. Yet, for all the impossible things they had witnessed surviving the wastes, none until that moment had ever set eyes upon a son of Atan Irith. The discovery of a stranger in the strangest of lands was seen as a positive omen from the Lords of Liabo, and the Pilgrim's request to learn of the Order and its techniques, ways, and strategies was swiftly granted. The stronghold that they called home had, over the centuries, become a hallowed place blessed with the blood and prayers of the Company. It was here they took the Pilgrim and instructed him on Master Fasthr K'Tafali and the creation of the Order. They spoke not of the virulence of hate that had driven them and their ancestors into the nightmarish wastes, but of the teachings of Lord Voln and the great thinkers of the Order. They spoke of Habbiton and the duty to always seek the understanding of those teachings to further the resolute devotion of the path. Before every sunrise, thanks were given in prayer for their opportunity to follow that path set before them. The Pilgrim joined the aged Master Fineval in meditation and in the joyful hymns that harkened back to the youngest years of the Order.
So it was one day, he gazed across waves of the undead; a horde of the Horned Cabal that had repeatedly lashed out at the presence of the Company, outraged by its existence and frustrated by its resolve. It was there that he learned that light is only brightest when there is darkness, and the darkness must be checked to prevent the dimming of the light. The days were virtuous, and they passed into months and years, with Master Fineval and his Company a brilliant beacon in a wasteland the world had long given over to the tides of evil.
It was from the walls of the outpost that the Pilgrim watched perhaps the oldest and wisest of the Order's monks challenge one of the arch liches of the Horned Cabal to combat. Such a challenge made by a less devout warrior would have been foolhardy or the type of action taken by those whose audacity outmatched their wits, but Master Fineval was not such an elf. In the days of the Order, when its mission spread beyond the giantmen of Kedshold, he was one of the first of the sylvans to dedicate his life, as long as it may be, to the mission of our Lord. Never before had the outpost seen such a massing of the enemy, and never had the light of hope seemed so dim. Here then, the Pilgrim's lesson of light in darkness was learned, as the great Grandmaster of the Order took up arms one last time to face down the arch lich who held the reins of this unholy army. It was a duel fought against the arc of the sun from one horizon to another and as it continued, those who followed Master Fineval grew stronger in spirit and courage, while the opposite occurred for the lich's forces. Under the light of the early evening stars, the stalemate broke when Fineval understood that he could not defeat the lich without receiving a mortal blow himself. It was a truth visible from onlookers that victory could only come with sacrifice, and so Grand Master Fineval took his devotion to its highest level and slew the lich. He was not killed immediately, but survived to suffer without complaint for seven more days and nights before finally succumbing to his wounds. He joined our Lord Voln with the sounds of peace; the horde had fled without their leader.
By the walls that had remained firm against the Horned Cabal, the Pilgrim helped remove the soil with the others, handful by handful of dirt, to lay the elven Master of the Order to rest, welcomed to the Lady Lorminstra's arms at last and in peace. So it was not long after, overcome by the sincerity and devoutness of the Company, and its leader's sacrifice, that the Pilgrim collapsed to his knees and bowed low to the earth. In the presence of Fineval's legacy, the Pilgrim requested permission to become one of their ranks, to join the Order, and to accept the path of our Lord.
There is little better place to forge a weapon than the heart of the fire, and so, in a wasteland plagued by the undead minions of the Horned Cabal, the Pilgrim was welcomed into the Order, and his baptism was one of flame. In this crucible of nature and wicked ruin, the Pilgrim followed the Path of Enlightenment, but in the process of learning also taught his brothers and sisters the ways of his own people. The gifts of Kai, Charl, and Phoen became something more, something dynamic and new to those born not of the Erithi world. When the leaders of Fineval's Company bestowed the mantle of Master of the Order upon the Pilgrim, it was of an order born of the fateful meeting of he and they. Martially, Elanith had not and would not see again for many years later, such a fusion of traditional and foreign unarmed combat. The keen blade had become sharper, and the enemies of our Lord shivered in fear.
The Horned Cabal
Rarely do such momentous things occur without destiny or purpose, and so the enemy that Fineval's Company had for so long fought finally shook off the dust of ages and drank again from the chalices of ambition. The great liches of the Horned Cabal once more desired to sweep across the lands and render all that was life dead.
Great armies arose under the command of five arch liches, knowledgeable that the Grand Master Fineval stood in their path no more, gathered their forces, and eyed the approaches to the human empire from the squalid wastes. There were many paths, but one was easier than most. The easiest way to Empire was the same by which Master Fineval and his Company had long ago wandered down and, at its terminus, built their outpost. Thus, the outpost was the barrier between the horde and the Empire, and to the enemy, it needed only to be overwhelmed like a sand castle by the waves of an incoming tide.
Had the Horned Cabal realized their dream, then this story would not have found quill, ink, or parchment. The monastery and outpost established by Master Fineval and his Company would have been known only to the ruins and winds. The great heroics of their centuries long defense of a land made foreign to them by the nature of their race would have never been praised by scholars or put in song by bards. It was in that fateful day, when the armies of the Horned Cabal swarmed upon the outpost, that they discovered the strength of the Company and Lord Voln's steadfast defense had not come from one elf, but from those who had followed him and their faith in the Path. No Arch Lich was struck down in the days that passed, nor did the Company survive unscathed, but dust clouds ushered an unending night illuminated by the release of souls by the defenders. One of them, in the midst, was the Pilgrim, and it was in this atmosphere mixed with horror, darkness, and fervent belief that he was struck down into the filthy mess made from the waste of the putrid enemy soldiers and the blood of the valiant. One might have expected death, to feel the icy embrace of Lady Gosaena's gaze, but in the din of ten thousand screaming nightmares, the Pilgrim heard the whispered wishes of Lord Voln in his soul. The darkness of the Wastes was not the challenge meant for him to face under the banner of Lord Voln, but instead that challenge lay in Atan Irith and the undead that plagued that country. Vibrant with the glory of those endowed with purpose, the Pilgrim refused to succumb to a fate many may have resigned themselves to and returned to his adopted brothers and sisters. The waves of the enemy did not sweep away the outpost that day, nor the next, or the next after that. By the sacrifice and effort of Fineval's Company, the enemy was reduced from an army capable of overrunning all the cities of men to one that might be stopped by those of similar spirit and valor. Thus, the defeat by the village of Tyllan became the first and last of those who opposed the Horned Cabal.
The Pilgrim Returns
It was not the last time the monastery was threatened by the Horned Cabal or that Fineval's legacy prevented the unholy scourge from threatening the Empire to the north, but it was the last time that the Pilgrim witnessed as much. Touched by the grace of our Lord Voln, the Pilgrim bid farewell to his brothers and sisters and began the first few steps of a journey that returned him to the sea and the homeland beyond. In Nathal-Ra, he began to speak and teach those of his people who were willing to listen and drew them with him out into the wild distances beyond the settlements where the undead had long remained a pestilence. He taught them of balance and of light and dark, of souls tormented, and souls freed. And some listened. A monastery was established in the coastal lands of Nathal-Ra, and a path that had been tread countless times in Elanith was now resumed far from the manor of Fasthr K'Tafali. It was not an easy process, but neither is the building of a wall. It requires one stone after another, and with grace, the Pilgrim handled those of his people who objected to the alien ways of the Order of Voln, to the alleged destruction of families, bloodlines, and traditions writ across generations and time. Some who chose to follow the Path found the doorways of their childhood shut permanently or the eyes and ears of loved ones blinded and deafened to their words and gestures. As Lord Voln stepped forth from the flames of a fire to teach, so the Erithi who joined the Pilgrim were taught the ways of the Path in the face of the flames of hostility and rejection. Good must always triumph and so it has in Atan Irith with one tragic shadow of an exception.
As relayed to our ears by the good Master Benkueh of that distant land in the year 5112, the Pilgrim and founder of the Volnath Dai was assassinated by Erithi traditionalists who called themselves the Children of Ink. Never has a martyr been so deserving of his status; may the Lady Lorminstra treat him well on his passage beyond the Ebon Gates.
While the emergence of the Erithi people has been a recent phenomenon here in the West, so has our understanding of the Volnath Dai. From what has been learned since the people of the Pilgrim have come forth, this sect of our Lord Voln remains relatively small compared to the many monasteries that comprise the Order. In contrast to our own confederation of equal monasteries, the monasteries established by the Pilgrim and his followers have but one leader in the monastery of Nathal-Ra and leadership devolves from there. Every day a new outpost is established, deeper into the continent, and older outposts become monasteries as the Erithi people flock to the Lord's Path. Many of those who follow the Path come from the Nathala Dai, but it is not unusual to discover members of the other Erithi clans serving. For those who assume the mission of the Volnath Dai, their symbol is a white nautilus shell imposed on a shield of black. Observation, however, has noted that some monks of our Erithi friends choose a simple black and white nautilus shell as the symbol of their association with the Volnath Dai.
Due to the fact that Grand Master Fineval left the regions of the Empire prior to the development of the Waterford Creed, the monks who followed and later instructed all did so without knowledge or agreement to the Creed. As a result, the Pilgrim was not instructed in its adherence and so neither do the Volnath Dai adhere. However, Master Fineval did walk in the time when the Compassion of Our Lord by Habbiton had been published to the Order. A key quote of the work helps us to understand the theological building block upon which Fineval and his followers considered their own beliefs:
“...while it is above us mere mortal followers of our Lord Voln to proclaim to know his mission, that is in itself a divinity that we shall never reach; at the same time, it is also above us to assume that we, as servants of our Lord, would be capable of understanding his message from the moment it was gifted upon us in the days of Fasthr K’Tafali. It is blasphemy to question his message; it is not blasphemy to seek to further understand its divinity and how it then relates to us, his humble followers, and the greater world about us.”
This push on understanding Voln's mission was transmitted to the Pilgrim, who took it back to the Erithi and continued to ponder the message and mandate of Lord Voln in Elanthia. What has arisen since has become the centerpiece of the Eastern thought that is uniquely Erithian.
Volnath Dai Theology
The theological followings of the Volnath Dai are rooted in two sources: the beliefs taught and instructed by Master Fineval and the beliefs of the Pilgrim's dai of birth, the Nathala. Young as the Volnath Dai are, there has been little eagerness in its members to reinterpret the lessons of the Pilgrim. The theology of the Volnath Dai is best distilled in the writings of the Pilgrim, who in proper Erithi fashion, placed his teachings on paper.
"Remember that our world is one created in balance, and Voln was sent to us by Lorminstra's need and her father's grace not to make war, but to bring peace." - The Maxims of the Pilgrim.
Thus, the Erithi monks have adopted a standard of thought which views the undead as an imbalance in the world divided between the living and the dead, a world parted by the Ebon Gate. It neglects the strong presence of mercy in the Waterford Creed and the undercurrent of all popular and persuasive Dandrelian thought. For while Master Fineval and his monks existed in the time period when the great Habbiton had successfully argued for the appropriateness of always evaluating our Order's mission, the overriding place of mercy we know today was still then just one idea amongst equals. The tormented undead are recognized to suffer by the Erithi, but their release to end that suffering is not the primary mission of the Volnath Dai. Rather, it is a secondary achievement to restoring balance in our world with the removal of the creations of Luukos, Sheru, and so on. Peace is desired above all else, and the Volnath Dai monks are loath to apply their fighting techniques in any situation that is not demanded of them by their vow to the Dai or the personal safety of themselves or others.
The Maxims of the Pilgrim
Many members of the Volnath Dai carry with them the Maxims of the Pilgrim, a collection of phrases and sayings of the Pilgrim upon which to meditate. It is not uncommon for monks to spend years trying to fully understand one page of the text. The Maxims of the Pilgrim usually takes the form of a small black leather booklet with a white nautilus shell on the cover.
1. "Remember that our world is one created in balance, and Voln was sent to us by Lorminstra's need and her father's grace not to make war, but to bring peace."
2. "A follower of Voln is not the wind, but the water which silences the ripple."
3. "A weapon is neither good nor bad. It is a tool available to both the wicked and the just, and it is only the purpose behind the strike which defines he or she who wields it."
4. "Balance the mind, balance the body, and you will balance the world."
5. "For every shadow there is light, and without light, there is no shadow."
6. "One cannot say that light does not create shadow, but one is not required to stand in the shadow when there is light to follow."
7. "Tradition is merely the crutch of the unimaginative and fearful."