In the land of Epher there are many legends which revolve around the great mountain of fire and the plains of ash which surround it. The battleground of Gods where screams can still be heard with every eruption, the pure waters which come from neighboring peaks, these things are freely known to all strangers in realms both near and far. But one story of Epher is not known to the outside, excluding of course the Sages. For it is a shame upon the people still.
There was a hunter who lived in these mountains long ago, before the War of Gods. A man who had been alone since youth by choice, who now and then would visit villages and towns to trade as one can only do so much with so many hides. He did not partake in chatter, nor did he care for the struggles of the world, but he had a taste for wine and cheese, which he happily traded for.
A blacksmith’s steel was also welcome as blades were bought or repaired. And though there was an understanding between the hunter and the smith, the price was still high, especially in times of war. But the hunter was also quite gifted at forming rocks and small metal clumps. Not at all by fire and forge, but by carving, napping and rubbing, making small figures and faces.
These things the smith could easily sell due to the unique look and skill which brought them into being. And as so many things, this too would change the hunter’s life one fateful day. It was a visit quite like all the rest as the snows faded and the world turned to green, and seeking some luxury in his life alone, the hunter made his way to town. The taste of the last wine and cheese fresh in his mouth as he left.
It was a few days trek in places no path existed save for those made by the footsteps of both hunter and prey, winding about the trees. The hunter’s pack was full of small statues and figures carved over the winter and hung heavy with pelts and fur. Twice a year this trek was taken before and after the mountain snows, twice a year the hunter sacrificed his beloved isolation for as much luxury as he could carry or afford.
But this year he brought his stone and metal figures to the blacksmith, not knowing what he really had, it was that yellow metal he’d seen about the market and never had a use for. It was a metal the blacksmith knew and wanted more of the moment that he saw it, as almost every figure the hunter had carved and formed was made of gold. The hunter never saw the appeal of that yellow metal, softer than his steel and heavier too, he was more than glad to trade it away.
When asked where he had come across so much, the hunter’s world would change forever as he honest replied and told the blacksmith within earshot of many about the market. He spoke with honesty as always without truly knowing what he had. He told them the mountains about his home held these rocks all along their surface, as loose rocks, boulders and pebbles each as pure as the last, that even if he picked and carved them for a thousand lifetimes, the mountains would be covered still.
Of the two mistakes the hunter made that day, one was revealing that such a place existed. The other was agreeing to allow the blacksmith and some others to come and take as much as they could carry. The hunter only took what he needed for what was to come, how unfortunate it was that he assumed the same for all people. In exchange for another dagger or two, and for wine and more cheese, the hunter led those who asked him to the mountains about his home as word reached all ears about the market at such speed it was though lightning carried the message.
So grew the line behind the hunter as ill prepared townsfolk followed him deep into the woods. If not for winter having already passed, many of them would have died in the first night. The journey took twice as long for the hunter with so many behind him, yet with patience of his guests, he showed them where to drink and shared a deer he hunted on the way, a deer reduced to bone before the night was through.
This they repeated until they came to the hunters home, and just as he had said, so could it be seen. The mountains were covered in gold of all sizes, from pebbles to boulders and beyond. The townsfolk ran and grabbed what they could, and before the end of the first day there, the hunter was alone again. He had made the people happy and returned with far more than he had sought. Now the hunter embraced the silence as the silence embraced him too, tomorrow he would begin a new hunt.
All was as it should be until the day that they returned. The townsfolk came with many more in tow. By the hundred they were there, eager to take all that they could before a lord or king would take by force or otherwise, the wealth which now lay before them. Trees were being felled so carts could pass through the forest, and seemingly overnight a small settlement appeared, as basic shelters were built from the lumber of the road.
Returning from the a hunt which took him over the crests of many hills, the hunter was shocked to find his cabin surrounded suddenly by buildings. Lodgings and leasers renting rooms and carts for exorbitant prices for those who wanted to fill their carts and leave in the morning. Farm animals were bought, kept and slaughtered to feed the population which grew by the hour, turning this once silent cabin in the hills into what almost seemed as a bustling city market.
The hunter did not know what to do, he returned to his cabin with his kill still on his shoulders and dropped it to the floor as he stared at the inside of his home. A home which was no longer his, a building now being used as a whorehouse. A sight he would not have time to question before he was pulled out of the cabin and thrown to the ground and told he would have to pay for the privilege.
Fires roared about him as he lay confused and angry in the muck now outside his home. The muck of the beasts which tainted the water, aided by their tenders. The constant sound of chatter and axes felling trees. He got to his feet and yelled to all those who would and would not listen for all to leave his home and land as this is not the hospitality or generosity which he had offered. But the land was no longer his, and nobody would care. They wanted only to line their pockets, at least until the land was claimed by force, and even then some had established themselves for a long stay.
Spat on and ignored, thrown to the ground and hit more than once while trying to reclaim his home and land, the hunter saw no choice. He released himself to rage, and took that which was his. With arrows he began, raining them down upon the new village with speed and uncanny accuracy. Each arrow found its mark and each mark bled where it fell until it grew pale and unmoving.
When his arrows were no more, the hunter moved in, stalking and killing with daggers. For him it was easy to sneak up on those who hid or took their turn staring at corpses. He slaughtered them all both man and beast, until it was blood and not muck which flowed into the stream. And when that death was dealt, he went down the path and killed those who came, until none dared take the path to his cabin.
Cleansing his land with fire, the hunter prepared to begin his life again and reseeded the path with trees and thorns and traps should anyone else come. He would live without his luxury in the hopes of keeping his silent solitude and keeping the world at bay, for he had given them a chance. He had offered and given food and water and taught his guests to make shelter. They had received what they wished and left happy before inviting themselves to be at home.
When a guest undermines their host, it is they who become as rabid beasts, a danger to all around them. The host as that hunter must slaughter such beasts lest they destroy the land about them. The great shame of Epher was to produce so many beasts.