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The Roots of Hellwood
by Ken Rolston

The Red Moon
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Gloranthan Folk Tales

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Moonie Madness

Carmanian Sources

Malkioni Scriptures

The Many Branchings of Truth

(Many thanks to Nick, who, of course, revealed to me the Real Truth)

Here are the three Absolutely True and Mutually Inconsistent accounts of the roots of the Hellwood elf cultures that may be discovered or inferred by Abran Insilli or the adventurers or received as legends from Hellwood informants. [Nick: Maybe the ancient traditions of Dorasta Shrine record one of these accounts, yes?] We do not indicate here which is the Real Truth, because of that rude Player now reading this sentence, but GMs and Gloranthan scholars will immediately recognize which of the three is the Real Story.

I: The Corrupted and the Betrayed

No one claims that all elves of Dorastor perished following Arkat's Curse of Cleansing. The Poisonthorn elves survived. The Poisonthorn elves believe the Curse of Cleansing destroyed all forests and glades in the region of Dorastor now known as Hellwood, but admit lacking certainty that no elves or groves survived there.

In fact groves did survive, and their dryads. Also, those elves who could fled into the mountains, descending later to find ash-choked stream bed and withered vegetation. In that time the Ash Flat filled the low bowl of the Illlands, and the Foulvale valley, leaving the Demon Plateau an isolated island, and cutting off the Hellwood region from Poisonthorn. The aldryami communities survived in the high hollows of the Rockwoods, but in a wretched manner, and all dryads, aldryami, and plant life suffered the slow accummulation of the taint of Chaos that lay on the land. In this time some elves turned to the worship of Krjalk for aid in surviving in the blasted land. At first this worship was the furtive practice of desperate warriors; in time all came to accept the open secret of krjalk worship among the warrior class, so long as worship and practice was kept from public sight.

When in later times the Rist elves arrived in Hellwood, they found the wretched survivors of the ancient forests - but they showed no outward appearance of chaos worship, and though aldryami and plant life alike were stunted, warped and twisted in Hellwood, the Rist elves believed the tale that this was the result of poor soil and the loss of ancient breeding stocks. The native Hellwood elves invited the Rist elves to share their groves and dryads - the Rist elves forced, of course, to abandon their groves and dryads when they left Rist. The Rist refugees gratefully accepted - and as the Rist elves mated with the tainted dryads of the ancient warped groves, the healthy Rist community unknowingly admitted the taint of Chaos into their tribes. At the same time, the Rist elves accepted the sovereign rights of the ancient groves of Dorastor, and acknowledged their seniority in the High Council. In time the Krjalk worship was discovered, and there was a short and bloody rebellion, but the ancient Hellwood warriors, proud and strong in their chaos features, easily destroyed the rebellious Rist elves. The surviving Rist community had no choice but to accept the conditions of their refuge.

This, the two community theory, implies that two elf communities survive in Hellwoohd - one, the corrupted survivors of the Curse of Cleansing, the other the subject refugees of the Rist Moonburn. The elves of Rist descent remain free of chaos taint; the ancient elves are corrupted beyond hope of redemption. Elves of Rist descent might wish to escape the rule and impiety of the Krjalk-dominated elves, while the Krjalks are simple, corrupted villains. We may sympathize with the latter's struggle to survive, but we do not admire their deceit in tricking the Rist elves into sharing their taint, nor do we sympathize with their keeping the Rist elves as a subject race (a thoroughly un-aldryami thing to do).

II: The Wakening of the Dark Seeds

When the Rist elf survivors gathered to look one last time of the steaming soil of the Rist Moonburn, there was but one question on the minds of the young warriors who formed the High-Council-in-Exile -- where shall we go?

"Let us go to our cousins the Poisonthorns in the land of Dorastor." "You will find no welcome there, for they are bitter and turned inward by the foul taint of their land and by their cruel betrayal by the Lords of the Bright Empire." "Then we must attempt the blighted lands beneath the Rockwood mountains." "But the Poisonthorns say that land is blasted and without life, and its ash marked by the tracks of monsters of unimaginable fierceness and horror. We are the children of sweetness and plenty; how shall we ever toughen enough to live in such a land?" "We shall because we must; we may fall like the leaves of autumn, but perhaps the seeds most hungry for life shall burst forth in spring."

And the Rist elves indeed fell like the leaves of autumn in that cruel place, but the survivors laid their seeds and prayed for the best. And indeed the seeds most hungry for life did burst forth in the spring, but not all their hungers were wholesome. The strongest of the young colony's sprouts tormented their yearmates and denied the authority of the elders, and looking back, the High Council realized that these had taken the curse of the blighted land in the seed.

The ruling class of the Hellwood elves are descended from these first cursed seeds. The community itself has been shaped by the soil that nourished its seeds; none are free of the influence of that cursed land. Only the ruling warriors actively worship Krjalk, but the nature and culture of all Hellwood elves is corrupted by the Chaos of Dorastor.

This, the one-community-but-all-corrupted theory, portrays all Hellwood elves as tragic but corrupted villains. They cannot be redeemed, because the taint of the soil has entered their natures through the seed. The Krjalk-worshipping nobles are likely to be more fearsome and dangerous than the "normal" aldryami-worshipping elves, but all willingly accept the role of Krjalk in their culture, and all share the bloody-minded ferocity of the native Dorastan.

III: Noble Motives and Unsound Methods

In the Moonburn, the entire Rist elf Council of Elders were slain defending the forest. The ranking survivors -- a group of young Wood Lords -- swore a Great Oath of Vengeance against all Creatures of Flesh, and promised to serve any god who would promise to aid them in their vengeance. One stranger among the refugees stepped forward, and said that his Lord would guarantee them a safe refuge and revenge against their tormentors, if only they would swear allegience to the Lord Krjalk. Many devout Aldrya cultists opposed this bargain, but the majority, bitter in hatred and conscious of the failure of Aldrya to protect them, swore to serve the Krjalk-worshiping lords if they could promise sanctuary and bloody revenge.

[In some versions this stranger elf was a Krjalk of the ancient Dorastan stock. This stranger led the Rist elves into Hellwood and delivered them into the hands of the scheming ancient corrupted chaos-worshippers. These versions are simply variants of the Corrupted and the Betrayed. Only in tales where the identity of this stranger elf remains shadowy and mysterious does this version preserve the ambiguous nobility of the Krjalki.]

In this version the Rist elves arrive in Hellwood to find it unoccupied by other elves. The Rist refugees in Hellwood in this version remain a pluralistic, complex society. The majority of the community acknowledges the noble self-sacrifice of the krjalk-worshippers in protecting the community, but there is still no unanimity on the honor and virtue of such methods. The Krjalki are content to endure the contempt and hatred of a small righteous minority while the majority treat the krjalki as fierce sentinels ever condemned to be pariahs in the community. Many Krjalki may even acknowledge that their methods - possibly even their motives - are unsound, but they have made their choice and learned to live with it.

In this version of Hellwood the aldryami community granted the authority of the defender and protector of the realm to the Krjalki. The relationship is honorable on both sides, for the krjalki do not abuse their power, while the not-undivided counsel of the aldryami community is to sacrifice the orthodoxy of the Aldrya cult for the protection of the forest land and its plant hosts. To avoid offending the Aldrya worshippers, krjalki do not manifest chaos features in public, but only in private worship, except when in defense of Hellwood, when such manifestations are understood as avatars of wrath and vengeance.

The Great Temple of Krjalk in Hellwood is a secret cult worship center. In this temple are shrines to Primal Chaos and Pocharngo. Wood Warriors tapped for candidacy in Krjalk make a half-season vigil in this temple. Those elected for Krjalk receive chaos features which enhance their ability to serve the forest. Those judged unworthy become distorted and misshapen; those who survive may become wild horrors in Hellwood.


Will the Real Dorastor Please Stand Up?

The Corrupted and the Betrayed provides a campaign with good guy and bad guy Hellwood elves. The Wakening of the Dark Seed produces tragic villains. Noble Motives and Unsound Methods produces an ambiguous, complex moral situation, with great variance in individual elven attitudes toward the worship of Krjalk: some Krjalki may be hideous monstrosities; others may be sympathetic tragic heroes; some may even have the grand ambiguous stature of an Argrath or an Arkat. My vote is for the last Real Truth, but I'd like everything in Oak and Thorn to seem consistent with any one of these three theories.

- Ken Rolston

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Glorantha, HeroQuest, Hero Wars, and Issaries are trademarks of Issaries, Inc. The contents of this page are copyright by Ken Rolston, 2002; any material derived from Greg Stafford's world of Glorantha is also copyright by Greg Stafford. Glorantha is the creation of Greg Stafford, and is used with his permission.

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