Two years have passed since Emakesh rounded the bend of Mother River to see the village of Adur Em burned to a smoldering cinder. He asked the boat — a simple canoe carven from the stout bowsprit of the warship whose stories you already know — to beach itself that he might look among the ashes for clue or treasure. What he found was much more than the fire-eaten remains of a village.
Within the crinkling charcoal of the town, he found a holocaust. The smoldering skeletons of its peaceful fishing inhabitants littered the town in heaps where the marauders had piled the bodies to denude them of valuables. Here, he found a bent leaf sword like those carried by the soldiery in the mighty City of Dur who now marched the length of the Mother River in search of cities to subdue. And there, lay a feather, such as those worn by their captains. But why, he wondered, would such an army attack a village so small and peaceful as these fishers? He saw signs of battle given, but also that the village had expected no trouble; the everyday fish market still stood, its wares scattered and dirty. Flat loaves of bread and fruits littered the ground, as though morning shoppers had been taken unawares. It appeared that the militia of the town had roused itself hurriedly and incompletely, giving fight only briefly.
As Emakesh explored, though, he found one alive: an old woman who called herself “Lal”, her face smudged with greasy soot, one eye sealed shut with a wound, her clothes and hair burned away. “The name,” she said, “is true. The time for falsehoods has passed. They will save me no more.”
Emakesh, moved, gave to her his true name, a long and lilting name in a language from far away; a name from a people whose every child learned the Language of Names that he had made his life’s study.
“Promise me,” said Lal as she held out her open palm, wizened with age and crooked with recent violence “that you will preserve this flame.” In her hand danced a tiny spark, a fire no bigger than a failing light perched on the consumed wick of an oil lamp. “Its name is Shumal. It is the fire of the first sunrise. It has sustained our people since that first dawn, but now we are dead. Take it with you that it may light the way and another people may remember our name, now that we are gone.”
Emakesh nursed her through the night, speaking sternly with the evil names of suffering that sought to increase her misery in her final hours. They recoiled at his word, but in the morning, she was dead.
The flame spoke with the name of a small child in a small voice. “Will you protect me?” it asked in the Language of Names.
“If you protect my life, if you cook for me my meals, if you let me see in the darkness and burn those who would see me harmed, I will carry you in my hand and nurse you to health and see you safe in the hands of a people who will do you honor.”
The two agreed.
In the years since, the Dawn Flame has grown. Many now know the wonders of Shumal, from the City of Bhat to the northernmost port on the shore of the Sea of Loss. It now lives within an iron ring, stolen from the King of the City of Cloud, that Emakesh wears on his right hand. He has heard of a sea people who worship the dawn and now travels in his canoe to their port city of Daghra, that Shumal and he may part ways, the flame to be worshipped by a people who love it — a people to be forever indebted to Emakesh.
Jason Godesky’s Fifth World project is the only science fiction RPG I care about right now. You should check it out.