The assistant took a right into an archway off the hall and disappeared from Tacit’s view. Tacit quickened his step, thinking to himself that if he lost the young elf in the stacks that it would just be more time wasted finding him. He glanced at the plaque above this archway as he passed under it. The dusty bronze rectangle was engraved with the words ‘Military Intelligence Collection’. As Tacit passed under this arch, his hair rippled slightly and a tingle quickly spread down his arms and legs. Tacit cocked his head to one side, glancing up at the arch with a slight smile on his face. “Lightning ward on this door,” he thought to himself. “Somebody was serious about this section. That’s not designed to restrain entry. That would kill most people.” He reached into his pocket and patted the rounded token that was still there. His delicate eyebrows furrowed in thought after touching the token. He withdrew his hand and made a complicated series of finger gestures. At the end of the gesturing, he opened his hand and looked at his empty palm. “Anti-magic shield, too,” he whispered to himself as he continued moving down the short entry hall to the collection room. “Something in here is fairly important.”
As he entered this room, he looked around slowly at whatever it was that required such serious measures of security. The room was small and windowless, lit from within by tall thick candles, clustered in the center of a number of large tables in the center of the room. Along the walls running down the walls to Tacit’s left and right were bookshelves that went from the floor straight up to the ceiling, a height of probably twenty feet. Brass-jointed ladders ran along rails attached to both bookshelves. Along the back wall, tall drafting tables held enormous leather bound map books. Tacit saw his assistant, already moving towards one of the lighted tables, a large clothbound volume in his hand. Tacit walked over to him quickly, an intimidating smile coming to his lips.
“Well, have you found the citation for the ridiculous fable you presented to me?” Tacit asked brusquely as he sat down at the table. He drummed his fingers on table as he looked at the assistant fumbling quickly through the large book.
“It’s right here, Lord Endari,” the elf said, opening the book wide on the table. “It’s here in the writing underneath this woodcut.” He turned the book around on the table, and slid it across to Tacit, pointing out a few paragraphs of handwritten calligraphy underneath an elaborate print on the page of a woodcut. As Tacit pulled the book closer to himself, he looked first at the woodcut. The work showed a spreading tree in bloom. Underneath the tree, a smiling bald man in robes was handing a hammer to an armored figure whose face was obscured by a large black helmet. Tacit narrowed his eyes and looked back up from the text at the nervous assistant.
“You do realize that this is a myth of Kasnarian origin?” Tacit asked him, “This woodcut is Kil bestowing the first of the Elemental Hammers on Kai, the first Emperor. This is just folklore. No one can even prove Kai existed, he’s a legend, just like the Hammers.” He slid the book back towards the assistant, exasperated. “Just why did you think I needed a lesson in Kasnarian folklore?”
The assistant cleared his throat, smoothing the front of his jacket. He then reached over and took up the book in both hands. “Lord,” he said quietly, “I found it interesting because I had never seen a reference in all my Kasnarian studies to old Venne. There in the writing underneath the woodcut, it talks about the ‘caverns of the Gate in the East’. Do you read Kasnarian, Lord Endari? The ‘Gate in the East’ is how Kasnarians have always talked about the location of old Venne. They refer to it in numerous other works. It’s their name for the city of Venne, and as old as this text is,” he said, more confidently, patting the book for reassurance, “this passage has to refer to old Venne.” The assistant stopped talking, and looked at Tacit expectantly.
“Hmmph,” Tacit grunted, rising in his chair to straighten his back. “So what you are trying to tell me is that you think this anonymously authored book full of Kasnarian myths is a helpful commentary on the city of old Venne?” Tacit laughed as he stood up and walked around the table to where the assistant stood. He lowered a hand onto the young elf’s shoulder and patted him gently, “I understand your enthusiasm, I really do. But this,” he said gently, taking the book out of the assistant’s hand, “this is not what we are looking for. I know you were tempted by the books here, especially this room,” Tacit gestured in a sweeping arc, “but we are on a very specific, and very important mission here.” Tacit set the book down and faced the young elf with a fatherly look. “Help me find all the relevant information we can in this place, and I promise you that I will give you time for your own pursuits before we leave. Fair enough?”
The young assistant’s face brightened considerably at this last statement. He stammered a barely coherent word of gratitude as Tacit turned back to the table and said, “Now run along and catch up with the others. Have a few drinks and try and relax, tomorrow we will refocus our efforts.” The assistant nodded eagerly and quickly departed. Tacit watched him with a bemused look as he moved under the arc and out of sight down the hall.
As the assistant moved out of sight, the pleasant look on Tacit’s face melted into a completely neutral stare. He sat back down at the table purposefully and opened the book, quickly moving through the delicate onionskin pages back to the section shown to him by the assistant. He opened the book out wide on the table when he found the correct page, and smoothed it down. He reached across the book to pull one of the large candles closer to the text. The woodcut of Kil and Kai shone brightly under the more substantial lighting, reflecting the minute details of the print. Kil’s smile was not one of benevolence, it was the look of overwhelming power and authority, complete control.
Tacit ran his hand across the woodcut, frowning in thought. Then his eyes drifted down to the text. ‘Why yes, to finally answer your question, young elf, I do in fact read Kasnarian,’ Tacit thought to himself as he turned a few pages back to the beginning of the chapter his assistant had directed him to. He glanced at the elaborately illuminated text, and at the title above it, “The Rise of the First Emperor”. He illumination along the margins of the ancient text were filled with images of black armored knights, and elementalists in their colored robes, casting forth vivid and powerful looking spells from each corner surrounding the text. He smiled at the expertly crafted tiny drawing, then began to read the passage.
“And then under his tree in the heart of his forest, Kil came upon Kai.
Kai, the uniter of tribes, the voice of the many, the maul of dissent.
Truly the most favored son of Kil’s perfect race, his beloved people of Kasnaria,
Favored by Him above all races, and gifted beyond their understanding
With the very keys to the elementals, whom Kil Himself had imprisoned,
Locked in their planes for all time, and made subject to the will of Kil’s
Most perfect champions, his elementalists.
And it was that Kil came to Kai bearing a gift, to show him the pleasure
He found in witnessing the rise of Kai to Emperor, in His name and in His glory.
Kai looked upon his Lord, knowing His face, and said unto Him,
Blessed am I, who in your Name has united the tribes, and forged this Empire,
To your eternal glory and radiance do I dedicate my rule of your people.
Kil smiled at his favored child, and extended a hand towards him.
In his hand was a hammer, flawless in forging, and shimmering with power.
“My child,” said Kil, “This hammer commands the very elements,
Wield it in my name. Rule in my name. Conquer in my name.”
Tacit nodded his head slowly as he read. This was a familiar story to most all educated people, even here in the east, far from the heart of the enormous western nation of Kasnaria, beyond the Barrier Peaks west of Venne. The legend of the first Emperor was typically seen as a myth, even though Kasnaria had an Emperor, and had been an Imperial nation for as long as anyone had bothered to write down anything to do with history. In the legend, the Elemental Hammer commanded all the elements, making Kai an unstoppable force in battle.
Ultimately, according to the story, his power grew to worry Kil, and a confrontation occurred in which Kai verbally challenged Kil’s place as god of the Kasnarian people and country. In response, Kil broke the Elemental Hammer with a gesture, killing Kai with the merest movement, and shattering the great weapon into its component parts: Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Life, Death, Nether. Each shard took the shape of a hammer as it fell among Kai’s trusted lieutenants, who had witnessed the event, too shocked to act. Rather than gather the shards, Kil then departed the Material Plane, leaving the onlookers to argue, then come to blows over the possession of the now divided Elemental Hammers. The fight would eventually fracture the empire, leading to a dark age of internecine conflict for the Kasnarian people that lasted almost a century.
Tacit begin to flip through the familiar legend of the Kasnarian civil war: the varied factions, each under one of Kai’s closest lieutenants, or in some cases, powerful cadres of elementalists, all striving to retake the Imperial seat for their chosen leaders. The conflict was escalated by the powerful magic of the hammers, and by the magic the elementalists used in their conflicts with one another.
After decades of this futile slaughter, a coalition of three Hammer Bearers united in mutual nonaggression and made a concerted effort to negotiate truces where possible, and eliminate rivals violently when necessary. The triumvirate, and their now allied armies, cut a swath of destruction through their enemies, leaving behind either unified communities or burning piles of corpses. In their push to the capital, Kasnaria City, they successfully vanquished all imperial rivals, installing their own choice as Emperor on the throne. The Second Emperor, Kalil. Kalil took the Hammer of Life is his Imperial scepter, leaving the other two Hammers possessed by the triumvirate in the hands of the two other members, the arch-elementalists, Vererand and Iar Gerulin. Vererand possessed the Hammer of Air, and Gerulin the Hammer of Fire.
Once the throne had been seized, the long-suffering Kasnarian people were quick to act. Clerics of the faith proclaimed throughout the country that as Kalil had taken the throne without resistance from Kil, then clearly he was the Emperor. Surely their God, in his wisdom, wouldn’t let a false Emperor install himself. After all, Kil had chosen to end the life of the first Emperor personally. And so began the most violent purge in all the Kasnarian legends, as the very people who had been so content to be ground under the heel of an Emperor rose up to slay all false Emperors, and those who followed them.
The popular revolt lasted a month, and killed almost a third of Kasnaria’s population. At the end, the other four Hammers were gone.
Tacit had read all of this narrative before. And it was true that the Emperor of Kasnaria wielded an enormously powerful Elemental Hammer. That much was confirmed in the sightings of the Emperor during the first Kasnarian invasion. The weapon really existed. If could be reasonably assumed, and was by many of the West’s better military minds that the Hammers of Air and Fire were both real and in possession of the Kasnarian elementalists as well, given how much of the magical damage cause during the invasion was oriented towards these two elements.
Of course, what he knew, that perhaps four other people in the whole world knew, was that the Hammer of Earth was also real, and had been found, here in Haarkedamia, six months prior. That hammer had been quickly spirited out of the country, and was already held in a vault, in Tribune, the high elven capital, more than a thousand miles to the north.
Tacit knew this because he had contracted the two freelancers who had brought the weapon out from deep within a Cthrian swamp, from a long forgotten crypt that Tacit had found the entry to after four years of research. He knew what the weapons were, and what they meant to the Emperor of Kasnaria, and to the invasion of Haarkedamia that Tacit knew he had been planning now for almost a decade.
Tacit finally came to the part of the story he was unfamiliar with: the part that his eager assistant had found inadvertently while no doubt doing his own research. The passage was describing the flight of the few survivors of the purges following the rise of the second Emperor. It traced the path of the Hammer of Death into the Barrier peaks, carried by the squire of one of the challengers to Kalil, a paladin of Kil named Bonderen. The paladin and his quickly shrinking retinue of loyal followers fled into the mountains, pursued doggedly by Imperial troops, who continued to thin his number of followers in a series of skirmishes in the high mountain passes that bypassed the valley that housed the entry to Coryntor, the dwarven mountain kingdom.
After a month’s time, Bonderen himself, starving and alone, had stumbled out of the Barrier peaks, and onto the road to old Venne, which at the time, would have been little more than a mining community at the foot of the mountains. He was promptly attacked by the local garrison, and too weak to fight, he called on the power of the Hammer to slay all who opposed him. As he died, so did the small detachment of local soldiers. The group that went out to investigate the detachment’s disappearance came upon the scene, and not being able to find any cause for the deaths of the soldiers, and emaciated, rag-wrapped Kasnarian, they gathered the obviously foreign weapon, now glistening darkly, in a robe and brought it before the city magistrate.
The magistrate, upon examining the weapon, turned it over to a local mage. The squirrelly old mage took one look at the hammer through his spectacles, gasped, and threw it down the city well. It was never recovered.
7 - Berlin
8 years ago