The Houses of the Lethen’al
The Great Houses of the Areth’kon are an amalgam of European noble houses in the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries, the Greek familial traditions found in Homer’s the Odyssey, and the Minutemen of the American War for Independence. Originally, the Houses were just the family names for the major characters, but as the story evolved, so did the role they played. One of the key hallmarks of the society is that every Lethen’al studies at the Areth’kon for a standard fifty years. They were nearly exterminated during the Apostate’s War, and as a collective whole, have vowed that they will never allow such a thing to happen again. To that end they are all ready, at a moment’s notice to take up arms against an aggressor.
The Houses not only supply the organizational model for such an emergency (everyone knows where to report), but each also has their own instructional focus. Fel’Mekrin specializes on the art of the sword and other edged weapons. Le’Manon concentrates on operations and tactics. Mer’Chien focuses on unarmed combat. Kal’Parev revolves around personal honor. Rhen’val is the Noble House of the Areth’kon, the descendants of the founder, Sui Rhen’val, and as such, are expected to encapsulate the beliefs of all Houses. Tu’renthien is the Royal Family, led by Thenaria Tu’renthien, the Matriarch of the Lethen’al, who banished the Apostate from the world and secured their freedom.
The Gates is a fortress complex in the mountains of the northeast of the Patresilen. Here is where graduates of the Areth’kon, the Lethen’al martial school finish their training with a one-year mandatory tour. Within the fortifications exist a number of sealed passageways that connect the Patresilen to other dimensional realms. The most notable of these is the grand structure of the Gates of Golorath, which links the Patresilen to the Quain (earth). The aperture for this portal has been closed for the past seven thousand years by the reckoning of the Lethen’al. But, seeing as the passage of time is different in the Patresilen than it is on the Quain, they are not sure how long it has been closed from the perspective of humanity. Above the gate is the Ledge, a raised platform that, because of the unique nature of the Gate’s construction, allows the viewer on the ledge to view what is happening in the Golan’s Pass on the Quain where the portal opens on the other side. Selection for duty on the Ledge is usually the result of an offense, as it is intensely cold, and the magic used in creating the gate imparts a sense of despair. The second major portal within the Vale of Sorrows, an adjacent valley that connects the Patresilen to the Sur, the realm of the Apostate. This portal is only open to test the Yearlings who wish to advance to the Elc’atar Guard. As a group, the Yearlings enter the Sur, and follow a path to the exit portal. They must arrival at the exit at the exact time it is opened, because it is not open for long. Those who exit become Elc’atar. The third gate is what is called a ‘captive breach,’ which is an alignment between the Patresilen and the Sur with no exact physical structure; this is called the Menace, where graduates are tested by standing against wave after wave of shrulks to see if they qualify to pledge for a particular House. A smaller captive breach, called the Pit is used to train graduates to fight a shrulk by having them face them one at a time. The final gate is the Moongate which connects the complex to the A’gist, the pasture where the lo’el live. The lo’el are large canines that can easily carry a Lethen’al upon its back, and are bonded to a particular Elc’atar Guard. Graduates must be accepted by the pack by entering the A’gist and standing upon short pillars to be inspected. If accepted, they are marked and are granted free passage in and out. If the graduate is not accepted, they can never return to the A’gist under penalty of death. It is said that acceptance in the A’gist is the first sign of being destined for the Elc’atar Guard.
The barracks for the graduates are carved into the mountainsides surrounding the physical structure of the Gates of Golorath themselves. Each House has its own barracks, the designs reflecting he individual traditions and culture of the House. In addition to the Command Barracks, where the senior leadership is stationed, there is also a communal mess hall, and infirmary, a library, and lecture halls. The fortress is completely self-sufficient, and grows its own food in the greenhouses, orchards and pastures. The graduates are expected to not only complete their physical and mental education, but also tend to the various tasks necessary for the production operations to function. At the center of the complex is the parade field and obstacle courses where the graduates complete their physical training and gather in formation.
Shrulks have evolved in my imagination over the years. Originally, they were somewhat intelligent, stood on two legs and carried weapons. But, as I wrote about the characters facing them, none of these attributes created the effect I was looking for. They weren’t smart enough to cause any real challenge, and they just reminded me of hairy versions of Tolkien’s orcs or Jordan’s trollocs. What if, however, they were devoid of intelligence? What if they could not be reasoned with, and reacted only with the most basic instinctual drives? That, then, is not warfare; it is something more akin to being dropped in the middle of a dog fight like we see in London’s The Call of the Wild. So, playing with the idea that this all takes place in pre-history, and the notion that dinosaurs more than likely had feathers, I figured that this was a great prototype for an adversary that was implacable, fierce, and without the restraints of morality.
Arielle Rhen’val & Angus Kal’Parev