Na-Swan-se’s account of her time living in the Khärn mountain dwelling of Khilma provides our scholars with much insight.
As I mentioned before, Na-Swan-se eventually learned enough of the brutish language to tell us some of their stories and customs. It is at this point that I will elucidate these.
But first it serves to explain what part in Khärn society Na-Swan-se took and how she came to occupy that position.
Her journey through the Rhoza mountains to Khilma can hardly be described, so harrowing it was.
Forced to climb the steep pathways without any covering or sustenance, Na-Swan-se eventually collapsed—able to proceed no further. So her captors drug her onwards behind the herd of Fadül.
She is not sure how many of Celem’s paths it was—she guesses five—when they came across the carved stone form of a snake bearing the same horns seen on most Khärn helmets. They were high in the mountains, where it takes two breaths for everyone here in Jotheim.
Bones lay strewn before the serpentine head, its mouth gaped open, a flickering of flames illuminating it within.
Na-Swan-se remembers watching all the Khärn stop, line up and lay prostrate before the serpent head. Then with great excitement they proceeded through the serpent’s mouth.
Our soldiers require no description of the journey into the Khärn home city based in the roots of those mountains.
It is a long and dark journey. The dark is not like the dark when Celem’s journey is done. The cold is not like the cold of the East Wind. Both are more like death.
The Khärn require no guiding light to navigate that deathly dark, so accustomed to the path they are. In their excitement they travelled with great speed—dragging Na-Swan-se and whipping the scared flock of Fadül which would soon be food.
Na-Swan-se believes she was close to entering Go-na forever.
But then the air grew warmer and a faint glow illuminated the rock walls.
The Durno soldiers schooled in Shinse verse speak better about the fearful Khärn lair than I can here. But even they have not seen all of it.
Na-Swan-se agrees with our scholars that it is highly unlikely the brutes had the technical capability of building the complex—the arena hanging by gigantic chains, or even the honey combed series of chambers running along deep inside, guarded by their metal gates. Who did fashion the city, lit and warmed by Skara’s molten bowels, remains a mystery.
Na-Swan-se says the boiling fiery bottom of this city was prone to rising at times, even covering the Blüt arena, but the rock would somehow never succumb to the heat. In fact, it remained cool to the touch.
Upon arriving in the Khärn arena Hrackamül began barking orders, gaining the attention of the residents, the hunting party the cowering, fearful flock of Fadül and, drug behind them, Na-Swan-se.
A stream of Khärn filled the chamber and behind them, born on a throne covered in skins and the skulls of dead Skaran soldiers of varying races, sat the fat form of a the Hrackakhärn.
Hrackamül grabbed the nearly lifeless form of Na-Swan-se, growled to his hunting party who kneeled towards the throne, and lifted Na-Swan-se up to the Hrackakhärn.
The Hrackakhärn inspected the prize offering much the same as the skinny Khärn had the day Na-Swan-se was captured. Sniffing and pinching, Hrackakhärn even licked Na-Swan-se’s skin [the power of the Khärn sense of taste and smell cannot be overestimated] as the crowd waited expectantly.
Na-Swan-se says Hrackamül uttered quietly in the brutish language to Hrackakhärn who crouched his head as he listened. He then paused, lifting a gnarled claw in the air for quiet.
Once he had it, he barked loudly, lifting Na-Swan-se up for all to see.
The crowd of brutes roared in unison. A chain with a thick collar was brought to the Hrackakhärn who took it and fastened it around Na-Swan-se’s neck.
She was then passed over to a tall rock column with a flat top, and the other end of the chain was fastened to it.
The crowd kept roaring, but already the great throne was turned and began heading back into the honeycomb of chambers.
A large and elegant looking Fadül was picked from the herd—a jagged blade was brought and the animal, lowing in complaint, was unceremoniously decapitated. The corpse was lifted up and brought in to the chambers behind the throne.
The feast had begun, but Na-Swan-se has no memory of it, chained to her pillar she curled up into a ball and fell fast asleep.
Na-Swan-se was treated more like an exotic pet than a slave.
She was regularly fed scraps of Fadül meat as well as piles of mashed edible lichen that grew within the cave walls served in stolen Shinse or Durno dishes.
High on her perch she would be admired and only occasionally poked at by passing Khärn. This period of time lasted so long, Na-Swan-se says she quickly regained her form, her hair began to shine again, her skin grew taught and she became restless.
In this world Celem does not reign. His passing is not the way Khärn mark the passage of time.
Our scholars have always surmised that this is one of the reasons for the Khärn brutishness. Without regulation of nature their inner nature remains unregulated. They eat when they feel like eating, sleep when they feel like sleeping and fight when they feel like fighting.
With Na-Swan-se’s strength came more Khärn visitors. Situated out of reach, the tormentors resorted to using long sticks or missiles. After a while Na-Swan-se says they would come in a continual stream, giving her very little time for peaceful rest.
She grew clever and observant, picking out the meanings of grunts and repeating them to herself. One time a young Khärn poked a very long sharpened stick at her. Snarling like an angry Hrônd, she dodged it until, with her characteristic swiftness and force, she arrested it from his grasp.
Pulling it out of the squealing little brute’s reach, Na-Swan-se directed its sharpened end at the youngster.
The brute jumped to get his toy back, and Na-Swan-se, lost in fury, shoved the instrument straight through its eye.
They young brute screamed and screamed, in the tortured throes of death.
An older Khärn, who had watched from the dwelling entrance came over then, grabbed the youth and after inspecting the wound, deftly snapped the young Khärn’s neck.
He then called for his fellow brutes, who slowly streamed out to see the body. The older Khärn pointed at Na-Swan-se who crouched, snarling back.
Although the Khärn do not celebrate death with a funeral, or make much notice of it, they did gather together, lifting the body of the young Khärn. Hrackakhärn emerged last out of the entrance to the dwellings, waddling through the throng to accept the body of the young Khärn—his own spawn our scholars surmise.
With shouts and hooting chants, Hrackakhärn cast the corpse over the side of the arena into the boiling abyss.
The lava accepted the offering with a loud hiss. There then began a deep rumbling, which Na-Swan-se soon realized was the pounding of drums.
The drums grew in strength and vigor—a couple of Khärn brought out a wooden ladder which they propped against Na-Swan-se’s column.
The first brute that climbed up to seize Na-Swan-se was kicked violently off the ladder by the desperate Na-shizu. The second brought a weighted net.
Thus entangled, Na-Swan-se remembers being brought to the middle of the coliseum. The Khärn had all moved to the arena’s edges to watch the spectacle. Only the bulbous form of Hrackakhärn and a couple of his lieutenants stood in the middle waiting to receive Na-Swan-se.
“Schlê ho Bül!” Shouted the Hrackakhärn. The crowd cheered. Na-Swan-se tells us that means “the Shinse fights Bül.”
At this point it serves to explain the Khärn pantheon of Gods and worshipped entities—most of whom are living creatures only found in the roots of Skara’s mountains. Few have seen these creatures. Bül is the chief of these Gods, the horned serpent who is said to have produced all that lives by consuming lava and vomiting it forth.
Only Bül is without lineage—existing for all time (the Khärn are not sophisticated enough to hold beliefs about the beginning of time, or the beginning of bodily forms).
The Khärn believe the first Bül, the real Bül actually is the stone form that makes the entrance to the Khilma.
This Bül slept for all the ages in the depths of the rock, curled around itself in a tight ball to keep warm.
As Bül slept, its hot breath finally heated the rock to the point of melting it and even catching it on fire. The fire grew wildly out of control—melted through to touch Bül’s scaley skin—causing him to wake. Bül’s anger at being burnt and awoken caused it to lash out at the fiery ball, thinking to extinguish it by consuming it.
With a gulp, Bül consumed the fire—only to find it was unbearable and inside.
Bül lashed and lashed, its coils coming undone, bending and writhing in tortured pain. This the Khärn believe is where all unevenness in the ground comes from.
The serpent spewed out as much of the flowing mass as it could, Only a portion of the wicked amount had left when Celem poked his head over the horizon. Bül caught in terror at the first sight of Celem’s brilliant light, turned immediately to stone.
The hot matter took forms of life as they cooled. And some stayed within Bül’s insides, the formless pit that Na-Swan-se and our warriors have all seen.
The Khärn believe of course that they too are children of Bül, some of her most favored children.
Na-Swan-se was never able to understand why. But the most favored of all are the real horned serpents still living in those cavernous depths.
It is one of these fearsome creatures Na-Swan-se says appeared, its head covered in a helmet attached to a chain held by a gang of brutes on both sides.
When the serpent caught the smell of the fresh meat in the middle of the arena, its writhing and thrashing grew more violent, pulling its handlers off the ground, even throwing one into the molten liquid.
The crowd of Khärn began howling—Bül! Bül! Bül! –as the snake was held at the edge of the coliseum. With the majority of the Khärn safely beyond the border of the flowing lava, including the Hrackakhärn himself, the two remaining lieutenants, one of them Hrackamül himself, removed the weighted net from Na-Swan-se. Hrackamül then pulled his very own jade knife and presented it to Na-Swan-se to roaring from the crowd.
The greedy serpent finally broke free of its handlers, and proceeded to slither across the rocky and bone strewn arena.
Na-Swan-se says she had very little time to think before the serpent was already near enough to strike. Finding her legs—she ran to the edge of the arena—where the lava flowed—dodging from side to side as the horned beast lunged after her.
Reaching the edge, Na-Swan-se began turned to dash along it. However, the serpent had hurled a coil of its long body to block her escape.
Na-Swan-se turned around to face he impending doom—the serpent reared its head to strike. The Khärn host howled with excitement.
Na-Swan-se isn’t sure how she performed what she did at that moment. Arching back she stabbed the serpent’s body with the jade knife. At the same time she launched her feet in the air just as the serpent helmeted head came down to consume her.
Somersaulting backwards, her grip still on the knife, Na-Swan-se watched as the snake’s horned head pierced its own body.
The Shinse are carefully trained in the 7 schools to make the most of an advantage in a fight. Sensing hers had arrived, Na-Swan-se withdrew the knife and jumped for the back of the serpent’s head. The head bucked and writhed, trying to withdraw its horns. When Na-Swan-se’s wiry legs wrapped around its neck, the creature only intensified these movements.
Na-Swan-se acted quickly—with vicious movements she stabbed the creature’s neck. Again and again, Na-Swan-se described the liquid blood pouring from the Bül’s neck was icy cold and steamed as it covered her limbs.
The creature let out piercing shrieks of pain. Na-Swan-se says Go-na threatened to overtake her vision when claw like limbs grabbed her.
The Khärn were interfering in the fight to protect the life of their precious idol. Several brutes grabbed the chains still hanging of the creature’s helmet and pulled, removing the horns from their fatal position.
Another group then helped to haul the half-lifeless form of the serpent as they exited the arena. All the while they stared at the ooze-covered Na-Swan-se.
Bülschtoxchê! Said one with a face Na-Swan-se had never seen before.
Na-Swan-se later learned the name meant “Bül slayer”.
Now that a puny little Na-shizu had nearly dispatched the fearsome Bül, the Khärn were confused about what to do.
No brute had ever killed a Bül—but it is also true that the Bül did not crave Khärn flesh.
Among the Khärn this fact takes on religious importance and establishing friendship with the God-protector is important to them as being victorious on the battlefield.
So the Khärn began to argue. Their roaring and grunting language filled the cavernous space Na-Swan-se said, but nobody dared touch her, Bül blood still oozing over her limbs.
Na-Swan-se says she stood there petrified for a while. She says thoughts of escape fluttered through her head as did thoughts of home. But as the battle thrill wore off she realized she was not match for the Khärn host—nor did she know the way out.
So she calmly crossed the lava coliseum to her column, the ladder leaning against it still. She ascended the ladder and then sat in the Shinse patter of waiting—her eyes closed-willing Go-na to come over her.
The Khärn seemed to accept and respect what Na-Swan-se had done—seeing her returned to her perch, they left her there. They did not chain her, they did not come and throw rocks at her or poke sticks—they even left the ladder for her to come and go as she pleased.
She routinely left her perch to run along the coliseum and engage in the training she could remember from the Na-shime at Nagaco.
The Khärn kept their distance and yet always there remained a brute to watch her. Na-Swan-se can’t remember a day she didn’t see Hrackamül standing in the entrance of the arena watching her.
The arena stayed in use. The Khärn had many Blüts and it was at these times that Na-Swan-se continued to learn about her captors.
Na-Swan-se says the Blüts usually started after a substantial crowd had first assembled.
In the coliseum they were no less gruesome than what Na-Swan-se witnessed on the outside during the time of the hunting party.
There were no attempts to make the fights fair, though often if a younger brute took on a larger one, he escaped with his life.
Na-Swan-se says that though the Khärn are not sophisticated they can be subtle, especially when fighting. A brute for instance could slam a foe with limited force—preserving the latter’s life with extra show and little damage.
Many of the fights were thus a form of entertainment. But some of them were important power plays within the community of Khärn.
Na-Swan-se remembers one such event where this was especially important. It involved her original captor, Hrackamül, and a fairly young athletic looking Khärn. The hooting and roaring preceded the combatants. Na-Swan-se—who had picked up some of the language at this point—could only make out that the Blüt dispute arose because of meat.
Hrackakhärn rarely appeared for the Blüts, but he was in attendance for this one—two lieutenants kept close watch on the combatants who circled one another as the arena filled with every single Khärn in the honeycomb of caverns.
The drums began beating a rhythm that the Khärn host riotously kept, till the frenzy overtook its regularity. The young Khärn began an acrobatic series of taunts—looking every which way to encourage the fickle to believe her could overcome one of the most feared Khärn leaders.
Hrackamül for his part was quiet and motionless. He did not try to outdo the younger Khärn in athletic feats. Despite herself, Na-Swan-se says she found herself hoping he would prevail.
This leads us to believe that Khärn mature much like we Durno—some of our theorists presume that it Is what all creatures do as they gather experience.
The riot could not last forever. Hrackakhärn lifted a bulbous claw—the drumming stopped and with it the sounds of the crowd. Then the Blüt began.
High profile Blüts like the one Na-Swan-se recounted to us seem to differ from average fights in one thing: They are most certainly to the death. Leadership changes could not function any other way—otherwise the defeated would forever seek to have revenge. Neither do the Khärn have any concept of banishment like we Durno do.
Some of our scholars think this is a straightforward way to maintain order. (perish the thought that King Talénes V should think the author was being critical of court policy.)
As it was, Na-Swan-se says that when the coliseum grew quiet, the young Khärn was fully across the length of the arena from Hrackamül, performing twists and turns, flexing and grunting enthusiastically.
But once he realized that the Blüt had begun, the young Khärn swiftly raced towards his target, who stood alertly waiting for him.
Upon closing in, the young Khärn made as to pass to one side, but pivoted quickly to the other, hoping to catch Hrackamül in the back.
Hrackamül was prepared for this. With a mighty roar, he drove his shoulder into the young Khärn, knocking him several lengths into the air.
[Khärn hand to hand combat is remarkably sophisticated. Celem help the Durno locked in a battle without his blade and shield.]
The Khärn knocked back in surprise yelped uncontrollably to roaring from the crowd. Hrackamül did not pursue him, but stood just the same waiting for the next attack.
The young Khärn charged Hrackamül multiple times, trying various tricks—spins, kicks, fakes. But Hrackamül defended each one, even succeeding in winning slanted blows against the younger Khärn. Neither was able to win a firm grip on the other, which spells the end of most struggles with the brutes, given their fearsome strength.
Finally, the young Khärn bent over panting—the crowd cheering and jeering from all angles. Hrackamül goaded him, gnashing teeth and wagging a clawed hand.
Na-Swan-se says the young brute’s reaction was shockingly quick. Racing forward again—he made to do another jumping attack, but then dropped onto his claws, stretched out his lower limbs for a swiping kick at Hrackamül.
This move got through Hrackamül’s defense, causing him to stumble. The young Khärn did not let the moment pass. With flashing speed, he spun around and aimed a blow at Hrackamül’s head. The blow connected, succeeding in knocking the older warrior onto his back.
The young Khärn continued the attack. He jumped up and with his lower limb began violently kicking Hrackamül in the head.
Na-Swan-se says the noise from the crowd was deafening. Hrackamül appeared to be unconscious, his end near.
The young brute ceased his kicking and bent over the form of Hrackamül, inspecting him. Na-Swan-se says the young Khärn then took Hrackamül by the hair, lifting his unconscious form for all the host to see.
Na-Swan-se says despite herself a great sadness had come at the sight of her captor thus beaten.
But then, Hrackamül’s clever slanted red eyes popped open. With deft strength, he grabbed the young Khärn behind the neck, lifted him off his feet and began slamming him face first into the ground.
The crowd, which had been cowed slightly at the sight of a beaten Hrackamül began howling even more insanely.
The young Khärn came down to the surface with crunching thuds. His pointed features began to break and ooze a dark purple liquid. Hrackamül began to bellow with the efforts and the sense of triumph.
The young Khärn went limp. Hrackamül ceased slamming him and picked the young corpse up. Lifting him over his head, he showed the limp body to the crowd. Then he strode to the churning molten liquid lava ringing the coliseum. He bent his arms to cast the body in with a mighty shove, when the limp form sprang to life. Rolling backwards off of Hrackamül’s arms, the young Khärn pushed his foe into the lava.
The crowd let out a stunned gasp. Hrackamül sizzled and hissed, his face buried in the liquid stifling any screams as his body writhed in apparent agony.
The young Khärn stood tall and silent watching Hrackamül char and then sink to the bottom of the burning liquid.
The crowd did not take long to respond. They began chanting and stomping on the ground as Hrackakhärn waddled out to the middle of the arena. He grabbed the young Khärn’s claw, raised it up and shouted “Hrackaghō!”
Our scholars agree with Na-Swan-se. The term Hracka is not given out to just any Khärn. To get it, a Khärn brute must kill an existing Hracka. For some reason the Hrackakhärn chief is exempt from this competition. Our scholars surmise it has to do with an age limit, by which existing Hracka’s are able to be protected.
Na-Swan-se says it may be the result of the Hracka Blüt tournament that takes place upon the death of the Hrackakhärn.