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The Riders of the Winds:by Geoff Gander
This book is a rather slim volume, measuring 12 inches tall by nine inches wide, containing 72 pages made from vellum. The cover is made from waxed black leather, with its title punched along the spine in gold type. On the front cover, in silver etching, is the rough image of a mountaintop, around which several flying creatures can be distinguished. It was published in AC 934, in Glantri City, by the Rumbleratchet brothers, three enterprising gnomes who, briefly, ran a printing house in the city, using a magical printing press of their own design. Long after the explosion, in AC 935, which levelled their shop - even until the years leading up to their mysterious disappearance in AC 982 - they maintained steadfastly that they never knew the identity of the author.
The text of the book itself is in typeface; a testament to the gnomes' ingenuity, and certainly a novelty to anyone who comes across a copy. It is composed primarily of the journal of an unnamed explorer, who spent five years - from AC 922 to AC 927 - in search of the "Riders of the Winds". A brief note on the first page indicates that the book is in fact an edited version of the original text, which, it says, was 250 hand-written pages in length.
The writer spent those years journeying through the Silver Sierras, the Cruth Mountains, and the Altan Tepes in search of his quarry. Regularly, references are made to legends told among the local humanoid tribes of those regions concerning "mountain men", or "riders of the winds". The journals indicate that the writer encountered no success in determining the origins of those legends, save only that they have been told "at least for the past 1,500 years, and definitely a considerable time before the establishment of Alfheim. That region is always referred to as 'The Great Valley of Grasses'; no mention is made of the Canolbarth Forest".
The book also relates the humanoid tales concerning the dwellings of the riders of the wind:
"For it is said that they dwell in great halls, high up in the mountains, where none dare tread. Even the mighty clouds fly below their homes. The great Urgrah, greatest and strongest of the goblin spearmen, is said to have tried to scale the tallest mountain in the Silver Sierras, in search of the abode of these riders. In the sight of Wantra, the great shaman, he reached the lower clouds, eager for glory in the clan's honour.
"Just as he reached a great ledge, only a shadow through the veil of clouds, a winged form, no bigger than a human, grabbed him from the mountain, and lifted him high. Then, his defiant warrior's cry turned into a scream of fear, as he fell through the clouds into the chasms below."
From this, and similar tales, the writer develops some ideas towards the end of the book. The conclusion is that a strange race, with the ability to fly, dwells in certain high mountains of the Known World, building great citadels on the very peaks. Those tales that mention encounters with the creatures themselves describe them as "not belonging on this world". Almost always, the creatures are portrayed as belligerent, killing or abducting any who encounter them.
Near the end of the book, the author mentions making preparations to scale a tall mountain in the north of the Five Shires, and, during the actual expedition, writes of hearing "strange, buzzing voices and whirring vibrations, as though giant insects were cavorting outside the firelight". As the author progresses up the mountain, the incidents increase in frequency, with various possessions being stolen or damaged during the night, "as though some force was determined to prevent intruders from learning too much about it".
The last two pages contain what appears to be an encounter, and a sketch of a bizarre creature. There is also a publisher's note at this point, indicating that the original handwritten text was illegible at certain points in the final narrative, though the drawing is the author's own. The text reads:
"The sounds - that buzzing - are around me again. They must be voices, I am sure of it, for how else could my journey have been so beset with obstacles, if there were not some malign intelligence behind it all? But wait! I hear movement, coming closer to the fire, pebbles scattering and crunching underfoot...it's not small, whatever it is....
"[Unintelligible writing] n! Doesn't see me yet, but coming closer. Coming into the firelight, BY THE [Unintelligible large writing] ME! [Spilled ink]
"Later now. Can't believe what I saw; words cannot describe it! I shall attempt to draw what I saw on the last page of my journal - a fitting end to my quest. All that can be said is that all of the old tales are TRUE! They are out there, and they live in great citadels on the tallest peaks. What they do I do not know, nor do I wish to do so, but I feel deep inside that they are watching, and waiting. The secrets that [splattered ink] that THING told me, I cannot believe them, but have no reason to doubt it! I fear the consequences!
"Now is not the time. They are nearby, and will not grant me peace until I leave the mountain. I must write the full account of what I heard - the entire world must know!"
On the last page of the book is what appears to be a drawing of a bizarre creature; a halved Intelligence check, or an art-related skill check, will reveal to the examiner that the drawing is a copy of an original. The creature depicted is very likely to be unlike anything the reader has ever seen before. Its size is impossible to determine, but it is depicted as having four tentacular "arms", a vaguely insect-like body (with what appear to be folded wings projecting behind it), and four spindly legs. Notes typed beside the picture indicate that the creature's skin has the appearance of an insect's carapace, as is a mottled greenish-grey in colour. The head of the creature appears to be crested, and large in comparison to the body. Dominating its face are three large eyes, which are noted as being red, below which four thin tentacles protrude.
The Riders of the Winds is, in fact, a summarised version of one person's quest to uncover the truth behind humanoid legends concerning the Zhochal and their activities. To the extent that the book documents the various legends, it is accurate - possibly the only remotely scholastic work dealing with such a topic. The author, an Ostlander named Magnus Thorvaldson, spent over 15 years travelling throughout the Known World pursuing this, and other, legends. A thorough reading of this text will reveal the likely locations of several Zhochal holdings: Four in the Silver Sierras, six in the Cruth Mountains, three in the Altan Tepes, two in the Makkres Range, and another in the Mengul Mountains. Many of these hypothesised locations are, in fact, correct.
Readers will also learn that the Zhochal construct citadels atop the tallest mountains in any range, though their description will be unavailable. Other information a reader could glean from the book would include the fact that many Zhochal appear to serve a powerful being of some sort (Akh'All the Unmentionable, though Magnus was unable to discover this); they appear to be organised, as though they have a common agenda of some sort; and they have been in the Known World for quite some time - roughly 2,000 years, in fact. The main benefits to be gained from this book are basic information about the Zhochal, as well as a reasonably accurate drawing of one. Knowledge that these creature have an agenda (even though readers will not know what it is) should also make them more watchful for clues. The Zhochals' plot is to infiltrate and observe the more powerful nations of the Known World and surrounding regions, in order to determine what sort of threat might be posed to the machinations of the Outer Beings. Those individuals who are thought to have learned too much about the Outer Beings are abducted, killed, or both.
Magnus, after he wrote his journal (which contained information on the Zhochals' plans as well as what is contained in this book - the information having been supplied by a renegade band based in the Cruth Mountains), attracted unwanted attention when he tried to publish his work. Eventually, he located the Rumbleratchet brothers, and sneaked a trimmed-down version to them under a new title. This threw off pursuit for a time, though some information was lost due to further editing before publication. He fled Glantri scant weeks after his book was published, and Zhochal spies tracked down the publishing house and arranged for its destruction the next year. Magnus was pursued relentlessly for the next ten years, until he managed to flee for Open Isle in Minrothad, where he was able to "disappear" until his death in AC 967. Even today, the hin of the island remember his bizarre tales.
Four copies of this book are known to exist, either in private collections or in libraries. Six more are thought to exist throughout the Known World, according to sages and interested researchers. A copy was also rumoured to have been purchased by a wealthy trader in Raven Scarp, in the Thyatian Hinterlands of Davania.