- Stars Like Ice
Stars Like Ice
Stars Like Ice is the first web-comic for Embers of Caerus. Written by Mark Hope with art by Katherine Ellis, the comic is an epic tale spanning the far reaches of the world. From humble beginnings in the Dalwyn Highlands, we follow a band of young heroes through adventures that take them from vast forests and sweeping glaciers, across desert plains and rolling oceans, to the palaces of kings and the tombs of forgotten evils. Join them, and see the majesty of Caerus unveiled before you.
Scrolls of the Clanhome
Stars Like Ice introduces us to the adventures and exploits of Mirloth, Dargoth and Golmath from the Dalwyn Highlands. For those readers who want to see a little more of the background of the comic, here are a few nuggets on the Vojdun clan and our three heroes.
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The oldest clan of the Dalwyn, and the first to learn the mystery of steel. The ancestral clanhome of the Vojdun lies in the mighty Avencor Mountains of northwest Valedonia. The Vojdun are proud and stubborn, yet cunning and wise in the ways of the forests. They are equally as home on mountain peak as on wooded slope – or mounted atop a beardog and racing into battle. The Vojdun are ruled by Thane Drajek, assisted by the clan Elders and the ancient Gravespeaker Adun. They make their home in the Vojda Valley, below the peak of Mount Raeddyn, and claim all of the Avencor Forests as their hunting grounds. Few are foolish enough to trespass uninvited…
Our story tells of the adventures of three young Vojdun: Mirloth, Dargoth and Golmath.
Mirloth is the son of Karala (the finest huntress among the Vojdun). He is a forest-scout and hunter, just shy of his twentieth year. Mirloth is a quiet, deeply religious man who worries about his foster-brother Dargoth. All his life he has heard strange rumors about Dargoth and worries that adulthood will bring unwelcome truths to the fore. Mirloth does not know who his father is; Karala has never answered his questions on that subject. He is never without his bone bow and tattered fur-lined cloak, stained with the muds and mosses of the forests. Mirloth is easy on the eye (although he could probably use a good bath) with clear blue eyes, a mane of shoulder-length black hair, a wide and generous mouth, and a sharply-defined chin. He smiles easily and frowns as easily. Life is simple in the forest, away from the concerns of clan life and the questions that he has about father and foster-brother alike.
Dargoth is a foundling; Karala discovered him abandoned in the forest when he was just a babe and took him in as her own. There is a rumor that the clan Elders spoke to Karala when she brought the infant Dargoth to the clanhome, prophesying darkness in the child’s future. Karala refuses to speak of this to anyone, and the Vojdun have learned not to test her patience where her sons are concerned. Dargoth is apprenticed to the clan’s Gravespeaker, Adun. Dargoth is a fledgling shaman, fascinated by secrets known only to the dead, but fearful of one day actually becoming Gravespeaker. According to tradition, the Gravespeaker is ritually blinded upon ascending to the position and Dargoth fears the loss of his sight as much as he longs for the shaman’s wisdom and power. Dargoth is known for his pet raven Shurrock. The bird, a particularly ugly example of the species, spends its time hunched on Dargoth’s shoulder, circling above him, or perched on a nearby branch or rafter. The two share a wordless communion, shaman and familiar never far from each other.
Golmath is a childhood friend of Mirloth, now both grown to manhood. He is the son of Kale, chief blacksmith of the clan, and so is known by the sobriquet “forgebound”. Like all the forgebound, Golmath was raised at the hearth and anvil, stepped in the lore of alloy and alchemy, his mind as keen as the blades he has forged all his life. Although Golmath lacks Mirloth’s natural good looks, he has an easy charm that has made him something of a ladies’ man in the clan. Golmath is powerfully built, chest, shoulders and arms broad from a life at the forge, and his smile is as infectious as his laughter. Away from his fires, Golmath wears leather tunics that flatter his physique, accentuating his image with bracers of ornate bronze on each forearm. A loose cloak keeps away the rain (although Golmath seldom raises its hood – he knows his hair looks good when wet). Golmath has never cared for Dargoth. The rumors about Dargoth’s future cast a shadow over any relationship, and Dargoth’s gloomy nature and solemn demeanor have done little to endear him to the young forgebound.
Blind and ancient, Adun is the Gravespeaker of the Vojdun. He is the clan shaman, their go-between with the ancestors, the guardian of their lore, and keeper of more secrets than most men have known or forgotten. He and the clan Thane conspire together on all manner of things. Most pertinent of their many secrets is the truth about Dargoth. Adun counseled that Dargoth be spared and took him in as apprentice. Yet he knows that destiny will not be denied – a reckoning with his fate lies in his apprentice’s future. One day Adun will have to face the consequences of his kind-heartedness.
The leader of the Vojdun clan, Drajek is a bear of a man, with a huge beard and an even larger belly. He has built his rule of the clan in close collusion with Gravespeaker Adun, and as a result the Vojdun are filled with secrets known only to these two men. Drajek, once he learned the truth about the infant Dargoth, insisted that the child be slain. Only the words of his Gravespeaker changed the Thane’s mind. Drajek carries his misgivings to this day and hopes that Adun’s generosity will not bring dishonor – or worse – on their tribe.
Chief huntress of the Vojdun, Karala is a private woman who is more at home in the wilds than at the hearth. A running joke in the clan is that she hides more secrets than Thane and Gravespeaker combined, and there may be some truth to this gossip. Who is Mirloth’s father? Why will she not name him? How did she just stumble across Dargoth in the woods? Karala, of course, says nothing. Instead she lets her bow of lustrous black ash do the talking for her. Few would wish to arouse her wrath and force her to let it speak.
Rhia is one of the Caerlothi, Valedonia’s “Celtic” culture. A young woman in her early 20s, Rhia sees herself as a scholar, hunting the lost lore of Valedonia. She follows rumors and legends and tries to draw out the facts at their heart. The bored younger daughter of a Brannori warchief, Rhia travels with her twin brother Rhan in search of adventure. When we meet Rhia, Rhan has apparently been killed in an accident in the glacier, and Rhia must now come to terms with the price of her curiosity.
One of the seven kingdoms of Caerloth, the Brannori have a long and illustrious history, marred with treachery and war. In ages past, its most famous king (the venerable King Rhiath) was beheaded and his head carried back to Brannor. The Brannori discovered that Rhiath's spirit still inhabited the head, and spoke to them from beyond the grave. The Head of Brannor, as it was known, became the focus of a strange cult dedicated to its pronouncements and prophecies. One prophecy in particular sent a young scholar and her twin brother north into the lands of the Vojdun, seeking truths long buried in ice.
High in the Avencor Mountains dwells a breed of ape unheard of elsewhere in Valedonia. Few know where they come from and fewer still believe they are real. Apes could not dwell in such frigid climes, these doubters say. How wrong they are. The Avencor Snow Ape is a creature of brutal strength, fearsome cunning, and ravenous appetite. Those of the Dalwyn who are unfortunate to encounter a nest of these creatures speak of white horrors leaping from the darkness, fangs wet and gleaming, and eyes watching them with uncanny intellect. Those who emerge victorious from such encounters wear the pelts of these creatures with pride... and pray that other Snow Apes do not hunt them for bearing such trophies.
Rhan is Rhia's twin brother. Although he would have inherited his father's station as chief of the Brannori, his heart called him to distant lands. Along with Rhia, he seeks adventure far beyond the borders of Caerloth. Where Rhia is curious and scholarly, Rhan is brash and impetuous. His "big sister" (she is older by a handful of minutes) wastes much energy in keeping her brother in check. Were it not for his reckless nature, perhaps Rhan would not have found himself prey to thin ice and left at the mercies of the snow apes.
The urloi are an inhuman race occasionally found in the mountainous regions of the Dalwyn Highlands. The Vojdun fear and hate the urloi, seeing them as competitors for game and land. The urloi have learned to respond in kind, and the two clash wherever they meet. The urloi are humanoid yet bestial, with snarling snouts and spiraling ram-like horns. They are furred, yet dress in simple but archaic clothing, adorning themselves with trinkets of bone and gem. The Vojdun have warred with the urloi for as long as they have been in the Dalwyn Highlands. The urloi claim that they were here first, and the clans are interlopers. The Vojdun answer such claims with scorn and steel. To them, the urloi are little more than beasts, and treated accordingly.
The product of meteorite impacts, starmetal is an exotic alloy. Such impacts are not unknown on Caerus, but those that bring starmetal are cause for great excitement. Infused with the energies of the Weave, starmetal possesses qualities that mundane iron does not. Items forged from starmetal are lighter, stronger and more durable than their mundane counterparts, making them highly prized. The exotic nature of starmetal makes it difficult to work, however, demandinf much of the smith. For those with the skill to bend it to their wills, starmetal promises an end product that will live in legend.
In ancient times, the peoples of Valedonia dwelt in another land. Legend has it that this realm was fair and free, cradled in the arms of the southern ocean, and draped in riches to shame the mightiest of emperors. But from the darkness of Caerus’ past, horror arose. The land succumbed. Its towers were toppled, its kings dethroned, and its people fled. Death pursued them, and far they fled. Of those ancient peoples, twelve tribes survived. After long years of wandering, they came at last to a new land, green and peaceful, far to the west of their ancestral home. These twelve tribes were the forefathers of the Dalwyn and the Caerlothi, and the land they discovered would one day be known as Valedonia.
When the twelve tribes came to Valedonia, they found other races already dwelling there. Most common among these were the urloi. The humans put them to the sword wherever they found them, an enmity that endures to this day. But other, stranger species haunted this green and pleasant land. Some, it seemed, had fallen into myth long before the tribes arrived. But echoes of their presence remained: ruins glimpsed beneath the ice, carvings in forgotten tombs, unearthly monuments astride lofty peaks. The frozen city of Issel Issorieth. The Whispering Vault. The Chalcedony Manse. These and other lost ruins hint at the races that claimed this land before the coming of humans, and murmur of elder gods that even now lie buried beneath the ice, waiting for the unwary to wake them from sleep.
A city of one of the elder races, Issel Issorieth lay high in the Avencor Mountains. In the dawn-times of Caerus, it was a beacon of sorcery and inhuman lore. Its towers glimmered with witchfire, its catacombs trembled with slouching monstrosities, and its walls withstood all foes. All, that is, save one. Where flame and siege-engine failed, Caerus’ unforgiving climate succeeded. The world turned, the seasons grew strange, and ice descended from the peaks of the Avencor to engulf Issel Issorieth. All the powers of its loremasters were for naught, for none could hold back the crawling, freezing tide. Issel Issorieth was engulfed by a titanic glacier. The witcheries that had built it allowed Issel Issorieth to withstand the crushing pressures, and so it was preserved in all its weird glory, until a falling star exposed the legend to a younger, unsuspecting world.
An ancient reptilian species, the haasath were the original inhabitants of the Dalwyn region, before clan or urloi walked the land. They created great cities in the north, most of which are little more than smudges on the landscape now. One was swallowed by a glacier – Issel Issorieth. It is said that here the haasath created the first wights. The haasath loved to decorate their bodies, and their snouts and frills were often pierced or adorned with elaborate tattoos and scarification. In their golden age, they dressed in sweeping robes, with ornate headdresses, bracelets, rings and other finger-ornaments. Those few that remain in their frozen tomb are long-forlorn remnants of this ancient finery.
Wights are creatures spawned by spiritual energies. They are the living representations of natural – or unnatural – phenomena. Stonewights, frostwights and gladewights, for example, spring forth from cavern, ice and forest. Stranger species of wight are rumored: housewights, who arise out of man’s desire to dwell in safety; moondreams, who are the spirits of moonlight; and murdershades, who grow where blood flows too freely, or too often. The priests of the Nameless claim the haasath created the first wights, but the Gravespeakers of the Vojdun have long believed otherwise. The wights, they say, spring from the living spirit of Caerus itself. While they endure, Caerus thrives, so man should give the wights their due.
If the Thane and Gravespeaker are the most powerful men in the Vojdun clan, then the Forgemaster cannot be far behind them in influence. Kale and his forgebound are the mortar that holds the clan together. Through their arts and skill, the clan has tools, ploughs, weapons, crockery and all the necessities of life. Kale suspects Drajek and Adun are keeping dangerous secrets from the rest of the Vojdun and knows that the day will soon come when the fires of the forge burn fiercely. His love for his forge is outshone only by his love for his son – Golmath.
The smallest and most warlike of the clans, Kajeth hail from the Dalurene Mountains in the north-eastern Dalwyn highlands. Often hostile towards the other clans, the Kajeth prefer to remain aloof on the barren peaks, practicing their own brand of Dalwyn spirituality. Of all the Dalwyn, they are the closest to the gods. Let the other clans bow before ancestor and spirit – the Kajeth know that true wisdom is divine.
Masters of the highland beardogs, the Ershun are brave and cunning, and their raiding parties are known and feared throughout northern Vallenheim. The Ershun ancestral lands include the open moorlands throughout the eastern highlands. They were responsible for the construction of the majority of the Dalwyn hilltop forts along the southern border with Vallenheim. They known the treachery of their southern neighbors, and watch the border marches with wary eyes…
Secure in their ancestral clanhome on the shores of Dallochar Bay, the Rasheth are most comfortable with the sound of the sea ringing in their ears. Fishermen and explorers, the Rasheth are the most settled of the clans. They are as at home sculling their fishing boats about Dallochar bay as they are hunting land lampreys in the caves beneath their homes. Tough and weathered, the Rasheth are also known as the most stubborn of the Dalwyn. Once dug in, the Rasheth are like limpets – only a bared blade will draw them out.