In the Great Atheneum of Othamar

Timm knocked on the ornate door in the long hallway of doors in the West Wing of the Palace.  There was no response.  He knocked again.  The door creaked open a little, and Sympos' face appeared in the gap.  

Timm smiled.  He still wasn't used to this cleaned up version of his death-obsessed friend.  No streaks of dirt, clumps of mud, or dried blood and offal.  Just Sympos' round moon of a face staring back at him.  Sympos appeared mystified by the smile.  "Yes?  You knocked."

"I was headed to whatever passes as a library in this place, and thought you might want to come along."

Sympos considered the offer carefully.  "Books contain the whispers of those long dead, straining to be heard by the living.  Straining to speak from beyond the rot and decay that awaits us all."

Timm nodded.  "Is that a yes?"

Sympos swung the door open wide, straightened this robes on his square shoulders, and exited his apartment.  "Indeed."


The pair made their way down long hallways, leaving the West Wing of the palace, and entering the central core.  This was likely the oldest portion of the palace, and served as the foundation for Zuc-Swaine's great tower.  

The halls of governance were crowded with government functionaries, self-important ministers, and petitioners for the government's help and protection.  Here and there, Timm and Sympos would ask directions from guards, who were more than happy to help them find their way through the labyrinth of power.

Working their way out of the center of the palace, they entered the East Wing.  It was here that all the important documents, tax roles, census data, and collected wisdom of the Kingdom was held.  Each category of paperwork having its own repository, consisting of vast cavernous rooms ruled over by nobles of record-keeping.  

More guards were asked for direction, and more maze-like hallways were traversed, until finally the pair stood before great bronze doors set at a long marble hallway.  Above the doors was a single word, carved boldly into the stone..."ATHENEUM."

The doors were covered with details of relief.  Artfully depicted there were great battles, of both history and myth.  Brave explorers and infamous lovers were memorialized side-by-side in the cast metal.  Gods and heroes fulfilled their destiny in dramatic relief.

Sympos put a hand behind one ear, and pantomimed listening to some far-away sound.  "Do you hear the whispers of the dead?"

Timm put his hand on his friend's shoulder.  "I think I just might."  Timm pulled open one of the large bronze doors with his other hand.  It pulled smoothly open with little weight...a testament to the engineer who had designed it.  And the two adventurers entered the Atheneum.


There were three floors of shelving in the massive archive, extending on on either side of a long open area with scores of tables and chairs that extended away from them.  A clever system of exquisitely wrought metal tubes carried oil by some clever mechanism to oil lamps burning at every level, and at each table.

The shelves were full of carefully arranged leather-bound tomes, pyramids of rolled scrolls, and bound stacks of rough-edged papyrus.  Timm had no doubt that if one came to understand how the library was organized, and with sufficient time, one could come to know all the wisdom of the ages in this magnificent room.

Here and there, individual scholars were pouring over materials at the tables in the central area.  A few groups of two and three were gathered together, quietly discussing some historical or literary point of contention.  

Sympos shook his head.  "The cemeteries are silent, and the dead speak to very few.  But here, the dead speak to all that care to listen."

Someone to their right cleared his throat, in an obvious attempt at getting their attention.  The pair turned, and there behind a raised desk, a hawkish looking man looked down at them.  "May I help you?"


Timm spoke for the pair.  "Must one apply to be a member of the atheneum?  Is there a scholar's guild we must join, or permission we must seek?"

The thin man had intelligent eyes, with a glint of humor in them.  " is as your friend said.  The Atheneum is open to all that care to listen.  Or read, as it were."

Timm chuckled.  "We're with the Ministry of Surveyors and we're looking for information on the Cult of Al Ana."

"I am Valden, one of the archivists here, and I believe I can be of service.  It has been quite some time since someone inquired about the Cult of Al Ana.  A obscure reference, to be sure.  Its other contemporaneus cults get much more attention by scholars of demonology.  But, Al Ana has always been a bit of a pet topic for me." Valden smiled, his thin face almost completely transformed by the act.

Sympos' eyes narrowed.  "You have some fondness for demons?"


Valden laughed.  "No, no.  You mistake intellectual curiosity with faith my friend.  Personally, I am godless."  The archivist gestured widely.  "I devote myself to the great men who recorded the wisdom of our civilization in these vaunted tomes.  I hold my reverence for knowledge and scholarship...which is nothing less than a divine pursuit.  So no, Surveyor.  I have no love or loyalty to spare for demons."

Sympos relaxed a little.  "So, what can you tell us of Al Ana?"

The archivist stepped down from his raised seat, and came around his high desk.  "It is not what I can tell you."  He gestured to the collection of books and scrolls that towered three stories around them.  "It is what they can tell you.  Have a seat, and I will gather materials.  You can peruse them yourselves, or I could save you time and guide you through the most useful ones."



Valden gathered several books and scrolls, and brought them to the table where Timm and Sympos had taken a seat.  The time it took to gather the materials took much less time than Timm had thought it would, but much more time than Sympos had allowed for it.  Sympos seemed uncomfortable in the Atheneum, as though he could actually hear the whispers of the dead to whom he had poetically referred.

Valden walked them through the pertinent parts of the books he had brought, and translated the odd dialects recorded in the ancient scrolls.  The archivist was thorough, answered any and all questions he could, and seemed (to Timm at least) to be completely forthcoming.

What follows is what the pair of adventurers gleaned.


The word Al (or Hal or Xal depending on the ancient dialect) means red color, fire or evil.  And Ana (or Hana in the ancient dialect) means mother.  So the demoness is the Red Mother or the Evil Mother, depending on how one interprets it.  Was this her actual name, or the name that humans gave her to represent her nature?

The followers of Al Ana saw here as a female "fatal spirit" or demon in ancient Othamar folklore. Al Ana was said to live in thickets near rivers, streams and lakes.

According to one ancient scroll, she took the form of an ugly, old woman with a hairy body, long straight hair and breasts so huge that she uses them to wash her clothes. On her head she wore a red hat with a fern twig attached to it.

Another scroll described her has having one breast much larger than the other, or if one interpreted a few of the words differently, she had only one one large tit.


Al Ana was said to kidnap human babies just after they were born and replace them with her own children, known as foundlings or changelings. A changeling could be recognized by its uncommon appearance – disproportionate body, often with some kind of disability – as well as its wickedness. It had a huge abdomen, unusually small or large head, a hump, thin arms and legs, a hairy body and long claws; it also prematurely cut its first teeth.

A foundlings behavior was said to be marked by a great spitefulness towards people around it, a fear of its mother, noisiness, reluctance to sleep and exceptional gluttony. As an adult (which was in fact rare, as nearly all foundlings were thought to die in early childhood) it was disabled, gibbered instead of talked, and mistrusted people.

To protect a child against being kidnapped by Al Ana, a mother had to tie a red ribbon around its hand, put a red hat on its head and shield its face from the light of the moon. Under no circumstances should she wash its nappies after sunset nor turn her head away from the child when it was asleep.  These customs are still followed in some of the rural areas of the Kingdom of Othamar, though it is uncertain that those that follow these superstitions even know of their origins.

In some Al Ana cultic traditions, Al Ana was not a singular demoness, but instead a category of demon.  In these traditions, it was believed that those most at risk of becoming an Al Ana after death were inattentive midwives, old maids, unmarried mothers, pregnant women who die before childbirth, as well as abandoned children born out of wedlock.