To Fly on Metal Wings
The Shaan are a people devoted to and divided by prophecies. In their language ‘Shaan’ can mean Truth, Leader, or Prophet. They trace their origins to the ravings of a half-mad dying priestess of the Old Gods who, they say, foretold all that would be, could be, and must be. For long ages her words were jealously guarded in a set of 105 (a very significant number in Shaan mysticism) gilded tomes, each kept safe by a different monastery.
When the recounting of events in one tome ended, the next would be opened and read before the assembled 105 abbots. For many eras, it is said, this continued without fail and the Shaan people lived in abundance. Then came a dark time; upon the opening of a new tome, the abbot-guardian was accused of substituting the true book with a false one to manipulate the Shaan to his own benefit. Others condemned his accusers, arguing that no substitution could have taken place because the prophetess had not predicted one. A third faction proclaimed that events had begun diverging from the prophecies – wickedness throughout the Aetheria had disrupted the chain of fate – and that the others were attempting to conceal this fact from the Shaan faithful.
War – bloody war – engulfed the Shaan people. Not for the last time the monks put down their prayer beads and took up the spear, the sword, and foul sorceries. Many died, much wisdom was forgotten, monasteries burned, and many of the 105 gilded tomes were lost, perhaps destroyed, forever…
In the last bloody years of that war it is said a young boy walked among the dying monks on the battlefield; he listened to each one’s sins, collected their wisdom, and spoke prophetic words into their ears such that each died with a look of beatific contentment on their faces. He was brought to live in the Kisei monastery, where the Kisei monks claim that he made many prophecies in his short years. He was a brilliant but consumptive boy, destined for an early grave.
Many other prophets of greater or lesser standing followed him. Some monasteries acknowledged them as true prophets, others denied them as charlatans and shams; never again would the Shaan faith be united behind one prophet. Different sects developed, each with its own canon of True Prophets and its own jealously guarded books of prophecies. It seems, sometimes, that they agree on the broad sweep of history (for two true prophets must surely prophesy the same great happenings) but the differences in interpretation still engender vicious blood feuds.
Division made the Shaan weak; too busy fighting bickering with each other over religious matters, the Shaan leaders ignored the looming Republican threat and the growing dissatisfaction among their lay followers. The Republic took Sha Amatsur without breaking a sweat; the scattered enclaves of warrior monks could not match the technological and technomantic might of the Republican army, and most citizens were eager for the promises of modernization.
Modernization did not come to Sha Amatsur, only subservience to their Crestish and Ankaran rivals of old. With dissatisfaction came a renewed religious fervor, and loyalty to a newly risen prophetess. She was found in an Amatsuran desert, her tongue cut out, her eyes gouged from their sockets, her ears lopped off, but a silver-inlaid Tome of prophecy in her hands. Words were seen to appear on it as though transcribed directly from her broken mind.
Shaan agitators, like the notorious rebel captain Feng, spread throughout the Aetheria preaching her message of a new era of Gods to replace the Old and bring Balance to the world. They knew each other by the code phrase, the first words on the first page of that Tome, words that resound in the hearts of many Shaan today,
“I have seen the King of Stars.”
But these are the Shaan. They rose up, united with new converts all throughout the Great Basin Region, to break the back of the Republican monster, and for a brief time they read the words of the Prophetess and were at peace with each other. Yet she would not answer any questions, would not offer any interpretations, and the wise monks grew quarrelsome once more. Were there to be a few new Gods, or many? How many? Would living mortal men arise to become the new Gods? One theory suggested 22 new Gods, another argued for only 6. Kirukata, most revered of all the abbots, was laughed from the debating chambers when he proposed that the world was to be full of small Gods, one for every forest, river, mount, sky, and more beside. Soon their quarrels turned to war. The Prophetess destroyed her silver Tome, departed from the monastery where she had lived these many years, and was never seen again.
The Shaan fought each other from one edge of the known Aetheria to the other; it was a greater and grander war than any they had fought before. They fought not only each other in their accustomed way, but also against converts flocking to the new Gods, and the band of scholars called RATATOSK, branded heretics and enemies of Truth. Much knowledge was lost, never to be regained. Many lives were lost and cities destroyed. Sorceries and curses too horrible to recount flew thick as fusillades across the battlefields, and the spirits of those they felled still haunt the Islands.
If they are more peaceful now it is only because the rise of the new Gods, most particularly the Great Wheel, has sapped the Shaan of vitality. Throughout most of the Aetheria they reside far from each other in insular enclaves, teaching their own prophecies without obstruction. Even on Sha Amatsur the tremendous secular power of the Kirukata sect has squeezed its multitude of rivals into something approximating submission. For now…