The Qarimosi killings were a series of murders that took place in the lands of the Royal Council of Raaneka in the late fourth century. The story of the killer's apprehension was later gathered together as a story for purposes of entertainment and titillation.
They were the first Fellowship. They knew nothing of the glory they would inspire in the hearts of many a leal liege to the Council. They only knew the quest, and the quest is what drove them. Let that be a reminder to all who would follow in their footsteps.
Ghor and Teja, twin Raaneki giants, were the rock of the fellowship in times of danger. They would go on to be captains in the Third Raaneki Infantry, and who has not heard of that army’s readiness for grim battle and dire sabotage? Ghor carried spear and shield, and wielded them with power. Teja hefted an oversized Raaneki cutlass, and none could stay his wrath.
The gnomes, Agadhamast and tiny Bhisamkabha, were no taller than a man’s knee. They eventually rose to become members of the Royal Council, but answered many other quests before. They brought broad knowledge of civilization and its history, and they debated everything. In gnomish fashion, they sought clues to understand their quarry even as they chased it.
And whose heart wasn’t stirred by the tragedy of Anton Plainswalker? He was a dour man and a skilled hunter upon the Qarimosi highlands. As a scout of the First Qarimosi Archers, there were few who could best him (or escape him) when he had bow in hand. All would have been lost if not for his sacrifice in the streets of Melytis. May he be glorified forever.
And their leader, the greatest of them, Sir Joradar. Called “the Loud” for his service in the Battle of Hrathan-Tuor, when his clarion voice rallied a shattered army, and bought victory with spear and sword. His children’s grandchildren will carry the name Joradaro, so great was the glory he won. He had won many duels with sword and buckler, but he preferred the subtle work of sabotage to open combat.
Their gear was light. Ghor, Teja, and Sir Joradar wore mithral mail and weapons, but disguised themselves with Qarimosi garb often enough. Agadhamast and Bisamkabha wore robes of black silk, and carried packs of parchment and quills for notes and sketches. More devious, they carried phials of sleepflower pollen and burnflower extract from Kasumor. Officially it was an Ayavan study of their properties, but this tale will reveal the rigorous scholarship of this “study.”
They set out with nothing but rumors. Rumors, and the will to follow the quest. The quest called them to go into harm’s way, and they did so with courage and cunning.
“Two puncture wounds,” Agadhamast muttered as he scrutinized the latest victim. “Twenty four inches across.”
“Overworld inches?” came the tiny voice of Bisamkhaba at his side.
“Underworld,” Agadhamast clarified. “Six standard inches.” He probed his finger into one of the puncture wounds on the small of the victim’s back. Agadhamast was a gnome, and as such he could almost fit his entire hand into the wound. “Odd,” he said, removing his hand. Many things about the surface giants were odd to him.
“What is it?” Sir Joradar may have been called “the Loud,” but he could whisper as well as anyone. “Some new clue?” He was restless. Nearly two weeks searching for the killer in the streets and alleys of Melytis, and they had only managed to find more victims. This latest was a young woman. Her first godana, an image of an elephant on her back, was still vibrant in the evening sunlight.
“A new clue, yes, perhaps.” Agadhamast tittered with Bisamkabha in their own tongue for a moment. “These puncture wounds are positioned directly over the victim’s liver, or they should be. The wounds penetrate into an empty cavity, filled only with this.” He held his hand up to Sir Joradar’s face, who sniffed and recoiled backward
“What is this devilry?” the green-gray slime on the gnome’s fingers was acrid, like flesh charred and spoiled. He would never forget that smell, thanks to the Battle of Hrathan-Tuor. “Her loved ones said she was killed this morning. How could she spoil so quickly?”
“As I said, odd.” Agadhamast, like so many of his kind, approached situations with a mind that was both cunning and cold. Very little escaped his attention, but even less seemed to evoke any emotion from him. “But a more important question: why does the killer seem to be removing organs from its victims? We have no evidence from those first few murders, but each of the last three victims has been missing an organ.” The Fellows found a missing heart from the first victim they could examine, and the kidneys had been removed from the second. Now this.
At a word from Agadhamast, Ghor and Teja moved over to the corpse and hefted it onto a cart. The victim would rot long before it could reach Ayava for examination, but a band of scholars had recently taken residence in Melytis. With the advantage of suitable conditions, perhaps they could discover anything that remained hidden at the scene.
A harsh whisper came from the rooftop above. Anton Plainswalker may have spent most of his life upon the flat, highland steppe of Qarimos, but he had a natural urge for a vantage point and a knack for acrobatics. “Did you hear that?” he called down. All five of the Fellows below froze, and strained their ears against the evening. The faint and distant cry of a man came floating upon the wind. Somewhere nearby there was a loyal subject of the Council who needed help. Melytis had its share of rough warriors and bold adventurers, but skill in arms and strength of courage did not guarantee a virtuous soul.
Anton dashed away over the rooftops as soon as he located the direction of the cries. “Ancestors,” Sir Joradar cursed under his breath. No one understood teamwork like a Raaneki. Even in Qarimos, there were too many who thought to win glory on their own. Sir Joradar knew Qarimosi hunters were an isolated folk, but it didn’t change his feelings. “After him!” Sir Joradar barked to his comrades. “And stick together!” Ghor and Teja scooped the gnomes up onto their shoulders and they were off.
They wound their way through the the back alleys, senses trained on any sounds of violence nearby. They rounded a corner to find Anton in a small courtyard. He stood next to a modest fountain, hand rested upon the shoulder of a Qarimosi messenger. The young man was doubled over and panting hard.
“You have news?” Sir Joradar approached the messenger.
“I come,” the messenger stammered, “from Qarta. Alas! Such terrible news…”
Sir Joradar grabbed the messenger by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Out with it!”
“The Queen’s daughter! Only three years old. The killer has struck again!”
The wail of a mother for her murdered child haunted the palace at Qarta when the Fellowship arrived. It reverberated off the sandstone walls, and died cold and alone in corridors draped with many silken tapestries and banners. This was not like the previous murders. They had all been adults. Some barely grown, but adults nonetheless.
“We were visiting our relatives,” Sir Bapa Adite stared into a corner of the chamber, a high and vaulted bedroom in one of the palace’s many spires. “We had planned to leave this morning, but Patari begged us to stay longer.” His sigh was wracked with a sob. “She was having such fun. My poor love.”
Patari, the girl’s mother, had sprawled herself upon a pile of cushions. Masadi, Bapa’s other wife, held her close and cooed gentle words of solace, but tears streamed down her own face. Chathi was not her own flesh and blood, but that was hardly a prerequisite for family in Raaneka. Patari’s sobs drifted out onto the balcony, where a most grisly scene awaited the Fellows.
“It is clear,” Agadhamast said, much quieter than usual, “that there was a mighty struggle.” Among the Fellows, it would become an infamous understatement. Chathi was a babe of two years, barely old enough to walk about her chamber. A pair of handmaids attended her daily, and she was guarded by two Council Guards at all times. The trail of carnage from the girl’s bed to the balcony told a story that needed no scholar for edification.
Sir Joradar approached one of the guards, who gazed blankly into the void of night beyond the balcony’s rim. “Report, soldier.” He knew nothing of how to console a grieving parent, but he had summoned the courage of warriors who had gazed upon worse gore than this.
“It was just after midnight,” came the soldier’s hollow reply. “We stood just outside the door when there was a terribly cry. Bhori and I rushed in even as one of the handmaids fled.” The soldier swallowed hard. He couldn’t shake the trauma of the evening. “A man--nay, a beast--stood over the corpse of the other handmaid. Faster than we could draw our blades, he leapt to Chathi’s bed and seized her up. He had… spikes… coming out of one arm.” The soldier shuddered. “I was there, Sir Joradar, at Hrathan-Tuor. I watched a Sympol skewer one of the southrons and feast upon his entrails. I never thought to see something worse than that, not in all my days.” He couldn’t continue.
“I know,” Sir Joradar replied. “Find the strength, son.”
The soldier put his head in his hands. “I tried to stop the beast. He fled at my approach, ran for the balcony as if he meant to fly into the night. I reached for him, but my hand only found a tiny foot. It was already so limp. Ancestors,” the soldier retched over the balcony. “I tried to save her, Sir. I tried, but… the beast…” his voice was barely a whisper, “he ripped her apart, Sir. With those awful spikes, he… mutilated her.” Tiny Bisamkhaba gasped behind them, and fled the balcony.
“Fellows,” barked Sir Joradar, turning back toward the chamber. “Into the corridor.” Dazed and silent to a man, they all made their way out of the chamber. It was time to let the family grieve in peace.
“Where is Anton?” Sir Joradar needed information.
“Here,” came the Qarimosi’s raspy reply. He emerged from a stairwell to join them.
“Are there tracks?”
Anton nodded. “It is a careful creature, but I have found a trail that leads into the Glass Hills.”
“As I feared,” Bisamkhaba broke in. “A nightmare labyrinth of shadow and sharp rocks. The beast--”
“--The man--” Agadhamast corrected.
“will be difficult to track.” Bisamkhaba barely noticed the interruption.
“Not for me.” Anton Plainswalker looked even more withdrawn than usual. What thoughts raced beneath that furrowed brow?
“Good,” Sir Joradar replied. “Let us make haste.” He looked each of his Fellows in the eye. “There shall not be another victim.”
Ghor and Teja, Sir Joradar, even Adham and Sami were Raaneki at heart. They were ever seeking each other for support and wisdom. Together, they made up for one another’s lack.
Anton Plainswalker never considered himself a full member of the Fellowship. To him, it was the same as his service in the First Council Archers: a duty. He would answer the call of that duty for the good of his homeland, but he was born and raised in the highland steppes of Qarimos. His father had been his only family, his only friend for many years. They roamed the steppes, hunting antelope and aurochs, and driving Plains Cats away from the nomadic tribes that made their home in that scrubby land. When his father died Anton carried on without him, alone. It was the only life he knew.
He had been in Qarta when Raaneka and Qarimos were reunited. He was barely a man at the time, but his opinions had been set in stone long before. Qarimos was its own land, and had been for centuries. Grim tales of the Raaneki raiders of yesteryear floated throughout all of the steppe tribes. He did not think Qarimos needed reunification, though he had often heard of the merits of the arrangement.
It was for this reason that, on his last day of life, Anton moved through the Glass Hills well ahead of his Fellows. He had told them he could better track their quarry if he were ahead of their racket and distraction, but it was a lie. That was his ‘music,’ and his flexibility was a willingness to work with these foreigners at all.
The Killer’s tracks moved through the Glass Hills like they were his home, but his footsteps were wide and indistinct. He was in a hurry.
“Hail, Fellow,” came a deep rumble behind Anton. It was Teja, Ghor’s twin brother. His two-handed cutlass rattled in the scabbard on his back, echoing through the dizzying twists of the hills around them. Anton made no response, but turned to hear whatever his Fellow had to say.
“What have you found?” Teja seemed eager to the point of impatience. “Is the beast’s lair nearby? We hunger for an end to this.”
Anton shook his head. “Could be, but--” the hunter’s eyes snapped upward as a rock tumbled down the undulating wall to their right. He nocked an arrow with deadly grace. Silence.
Moments dragged on. “Is it--” Teja began, but he was silenced by Anton with a word.
The hunter’s ears strained against the silence. His eyes were locked on a small window of light above them.
There was a flash, and Anton’s arrow clattered off of the rocks above. The hunter cursed. He had fired at another falling rock, but a split second after the arrow left he realized the Killer’s ruse. The stone he fired upon had been thrown from below! The Killer leapt from a hiding place not ten paces from them, and dashed around a corner of the narrow canyon ahead.
“Bring the others!” Anton shouted, already chasing after the Killer. Anton was the most nimble of the Fellows, and but this Killer was exceedingly fast. If he waited for the others it would be too late. It was as he desired: a formidable quarry, a challenging course of pursuit, and solitude.
The Killer flew through the canyon ahead of Anton, scrambling over boulders and up small walls through the twisting world of the Glass Hills. He flitted through beams of light, harried by the hunter’s arrows at every step. To his credit, Anton followed the Killer’s path with speed and grace. Most of his hunts were spent in slow consideration for the terrain, his prey, its habits, and its destination, but this—the final chase—was the moment when Anton felt most alive. How could cooperation ever compare to the joy of pursuit, to the thrill of a hunt’s end?
The answer would come to him sooner than he could have dreamed. Anton rounded a corner into a wide and shadowy chamber in the canyon. Boulders twice as tall as a man littered the area. The Killer could have been anywhere.
Anton’s pulse raced as he inched through the chamber. He looked remarkably relaxed, with his bow and arrow pointed to the ground, but it was the relaxation of a Plains Cat: terrible in its stillness. His eyes roved over the area, but sight held equal court with his other senses as he sought the Killer.
The sound of movement on the rocks above was almost simultaneous with the thrum of Anton’s bowstring. He turned, raised the arrowhead, and let it fly in a single, fluid motion. There was a cry, a crash, and Anton knew no more.
Ghor and Teja heard the cry and sprinted the rest of the distance to the chamber. They tore around a boulder and saw the Killer hunched over the body of their comrade. The Killer was filthy, covered in rags and shrouded by a tangled knot of hair and beard. He reeked of charnel ruin. Only his eyes, bloodshot and crazed, emerged from that awful face.
The Killer howled again, yanking with his one hand at an arrow lodged in his thigh. His other arm ended just below the elbow, where two grisly shards of bone protruded for at least a foot. They were soaked in blood, frozen in midair, ready to plunge once more into Anton’s lifeless chest.
What ensued could hardly be called a battle. Ghor and Teja were said to be twins in body and mind both. They were formidable alone, but together their skill was otherworldly. Anton’s arrow ensured the Killer couldn’t run away, and Teja’s sword ensured he would never kill again.
Sir Joradar arrived moments after the Killer’s death pang, carrying Adham and Sami on his back. He looked from the twins to the corpses of Anton and the beast that had wrought so much pain in Qarimos. There was a moment of silence.
“So it’s over,” Sir Joradar said at last.
Adham and Sami made their way over to the corpses, checking them for any signs of life. The gnomes looked to one another. “It is.” Adham replied.
“Thanks to Anton,” clarified Ghor. “All thanks to him. If not for his arrows, the Killer might have escaped again.”
Sir Joradar made a speech there that would be carved upon the walls of the Fellowship Hall for all time. It spoke of the glory of service and sacrifice, and the folly of isolation. “Fellowship,” he concluded, “is our surest guarantee of success and safety. Even in victory, we are lost without each other. Anton Plainswalker has taught us a valuable lesson today.”
But during his speech, when all eyes were turned inward in grief and reflection, no one noticed the small movement in the sand around the Qarimosi Killer. Two creatures no larger than mice slithered out of the Killer’s mane. The sand clung to their gray-green forms, held fast by the stinking ooze that covered them. They crept unseen into a crevice of the canyon wall, leaving this tale but not the world of Telluris. Though unknown to the Fellows, the true culprits had escaped.