Asheron's "The Story So Far"
Three thousand years ago, a tragedy occurred. Harken; it shall now be told.
A herald burned across the southern sky one morning; a fiery drop, like the Watcher that visits Auberean every few hundred years, yet moving far more quickly. Shortly after this sign, a veil drew over the sun. Rain fell, and the drops were black and cold. The trees and grasses withered. The clouds built until noon was mere twilight, and the wind blew as cold as stone in winter. The people wanted for their crops and herds. Some called it the end. Some said it was the judgment of light, and that evils must be atoned for.
“Surely,” they reasoned, “it could not be any evil of ours that invoked this calamity.” Many turned to the Dericost. “It must have been those miserable, tainted people. Did their ancestors not bind their own to rotting flesh, and seek to bring the world under their heel? This must be their fault. The mercy we showed them has turned the light from our shoulders. Now we must force them to atone for their infamy.”
So the Dericost were starved.
What little could be grown was taken from them. They died by the millions. And as they died, well-fed missionaries told them, “You brought this on yourselves.”
So they hated.
One among them, a man of the village of Daralet named Ilservian Palacost, could endure no more. He spoke in anger to the Elders, saying, “You have food enough for many years in your storehouses. Yea, for centuries you have tithed the crops of all in this land, while mouthing pretty words of light and mercy and redemption. Now you feast while we starve! My firstborn son shall die anon. He is an innocent. Share out your food, and spare him!”
The Elders' pointed beards wagged over their round bellies as they said, “It is for your own good.” Ilservian was run out of town, though not before he vowed to find the edge of the darkness that hung over the eaves of the earth.
He did not depart alone. His closest friends accompanied him. Elithra, a Haebran mage possessing a wintry beauty unsurpassed save by Leikotha. Ler Rhan, a once-corpulent scribe who spent much (some said too much) time spinning tales for the children of the town. Omadin, a rough farm boy embittered by the starvation of his entire clan. Ferah, a tall warrior woman whose blue-green eyes bespoke Falatacot blood. Foremost stood Isin Dule, a failed seminary and friend of Ilservian since childhood. A small group of sympathizers also joined them.
They wandered far into the endless frigid mud of the wastelands, vainly seeking light. At last Ilservian called to the darkness in anger. At this, many deserted him. His friends did not. But there was no answer, save perhaps a sibilant ghost of a laugh. Ilservian pressed on, growing weaker, shouting his fury and anguish into the wind and rain.
At last, something answered.
Many turns of the world later, a shadow fell upon Daralet. The rains had ceased by then, and the world enjoyed an extended spring. But in Daralet, the children disappeared. One by one, at first, and then in numbers. First the poor and unwanted, then the children of the garrison. Whispers filled the night. Malevolence brooded on the hills around the town. Stupefied with terror, the people boarded themselves in their houses.
Word reached the outside, and an army was dispatched. It found only empty buildings, in many cases still boarded from within. On the city wall, the Elders were found impaled, and with their blood was written: “The proud shall know damnation.” With these words had the victorious troops of Yalain and Haebrous put the last undead nobles of Dericost to the torch.
The army marched beyond the desolate town, and found a valley filled with a strange, whispering darkness. Above the shadows, the crowns of trees stood black and wasted. One was seen to subside into the mist, melting away like ice. Before the army went away from there, huge coils of grey entrails were seen above the mist, rising and diving again like the fins of great sea creatures.
The army encamped upon a plain that night, and none saw them again. A lone girl, driven mad by horror, returned to tell the tale. The watch fires trembled and bled away. The stars faded. The ground turned grey and swallowed men. The general Lord Atlan was ripped apart. The Shadows had come alive and taken them.
Ranks of living night swept across the continents of Dericost and Haebrous. A black beast led them, howling at the forefront of every charge. The few survivors called this apparition the Slayer of Hope. Armies were put before it, and swept aside.
The Emperor convened the five most learned mages of the land for council. Old Viceroy Uweden Kormar came clad in the frost blue robes of Gelid, the Dericost province he had governed before its fall. Lord Kerenth Portenaer was promoted from the ranks of the Hieromancer Order, where he was held in great esteem. Lady Adja, prophetess and priestess, sailed from far Ithaenc. Lady Rajael Fellarien was released from her lonely tower in the austral wastes. Maila Realaidain, the gentle widow of Atlan, completed them.
They studied, and they worried. It seemed the enemy's strength flowed from some other place, an abeyance of light deep within the earth, yet beyond the world they knew. A power, potent and invasive as nerve poison, leached from this other place, to the Hopeslayer, and on to his horrifying servants. At Dernehale the council fought a shadow-woman calling herself Elithra of Daralet, and only with the greatest of efforts was she defeated. The Imperial Archives were consulted, and in a brief dispatch from Dericost, that name was found among the exiled companions of Ilservian Palacost. The true name of the Slayer of Hope was known.
An impetuous boy, talented only with a small ability for noticing details and drawing connections between them, called the work of Nilrhem Facill to the attention of the council. It was possible, he said, to seal Ilservian in a small portion of the “alternate world” Facill wrote of. The council agreed. As the island city-states of the Empire withered and shrank before the crawling chaos, they constructed a device that would realize the boy's plan.
The last enchantments were bound to the mechanism of the trap on the island of Ireth Lassel , later called Dereth. The council worked feverishly, as did the boy, knowing damnation was stretching forth its hand across the water. The darkness raced across the seas, as if called by the sputtering, flaring energies of the other plane.
Ilservian came to the site of their work. His chaotic mist ate away the rock below the fortress. His Thorns loomed close, blasting the walls with entropic energies. The desert plain below was black with a living carpet of Shadow-entities. Ilservian stormed through the corridors, slaying all who tried to stop him. At the end, he came before the council and the floating stones of the trap. As if ensorcelled, he waded through them, crushing Uweden's skull, reaching for the pulsing violet light.
The council cast their final spell, and Ilservian was thrown into the other realm. Everything for over two-thirds of a human mile around the site was utterly destroyed, and a vast wasteland of cracked and scorched earth marred the southwest of Ireth Lassel. The council was slain, but the darkness ebbed and slipped away. It did not leave altogether. That which had empowered Ilservian's rage remained, shrieking, waiting. Its remaining servants in this world melted away into a thousand hidden places. The surviving members of Ilservian's inner circle, too powerful to be killed, were merely made discorporate by the blast.
The trap burst into six fragments, but the Empire was only able to recover five. The last piece was never seen again by living eyes. That should have been the end of the tale, save for the Gelidites.
The capital of old Dericost, home to the dread necromancers, was the brooding Plateau of Gelid. Its living population had been rounded up by the victorious armies, and marched to reservations on the plains of Haebrous. But they were sore abused there, and found comfort in an apocalyptic faith based on half-remembered prophecies. After an age of cleansing ice, they believed, they would master the globe once more. After a particularly brutal inquisition, many fled to Ireth Lassel. There they hid themselves away in the mountains, and excavated an underground city.
It was during the digging that a young mage named Frisirth found a beautiful, sparkling crystal. Over the years, he studied it intently. He found it had an unusual magical connection to the deep earth, a potential to draw up and store vast amounts of energy. Frisirth announced to the Gelidites that the fulfillment of prophecy was at hand. By enchanting the crystal, they could extract the heat energy from the ground.
They bent their own energies to this task. The world cooled. Far above, where now new kingdoms lay, snow began to fall. Yet at the last moment, disaster struck. A human expedition bumbled into their lost city, and the Gelidites were forced to slay them. Other humans came in search of the lost party. They slaughtered the Gelidites, and destroyed their “Great Work.” As the malignant crystal shattered, darkness swallowed the center of the room, and a faint, eager chuckle was heard.
The sixth piece of the council's snare was never seen again by living eyes. But the Gelidites, desiring to witness their prophecy fulfilled, had used the proscribed arts of their ancestors to turn their backs on time, and chain their wills to dead and rotting flesh.
The Shadows began to venture from their hidden places of power. Ilservian's surviving friends became corporeal once more and raised the Thorns, using them to alter the patterns of magic in the world. Ferah and Ler Rhan weighed the measure of the strange outlanders that had come to their world with probing attacks and individual trials. Only two proved useful to them: the “Dark Masters” Blackthorn and Vidorian. They were given items of power, and told that they would be called upon in the great days to come.
But Isin Dule had misgivings. He remembered the final days of the last war, his friend's blank expression when the planar energy was felt, and the compulsion that had come upon him. “It is likely a trap, brother,” he told Ilservian, and still they had gone.
Dule, brooding in the wastes, steered a fateful course. He took his portion of the Shadows into his confidence, telling them that the pieces of the council's trap must be protected. If his friend should be released, he feared it would be the end of all. Ilservian was not fully in control of his own mind. What would happen after his vengeance was slaked? The price that the darkness of the wasteland would demand of them was not yet known. But Dule's first attempt to stave off disaster failed. The humans of Ispar gained access to the Nexus Facility, and a second piece of Ilservian's prison was destroyed.
There were remnants of Dericost in the world beyond the shattered Gelidites. On far Aerlinthe, the Lady Aerfalle observed the passing days and rising blight with worry. She sent her emissaries into the world, contacting her old friends and enemies.
The fractious Undead came to rare accord, and massed an army. For its commander, they chose Anadil, the last great general of their old realm. He set his banner in the creaking jungles of Ithaenc Isle. At his side stood Asmolum, an ancient schemer and diviner. Asmolum's agents soon located three more fragments of the council's device. But others under the night sky observed their scurrying. . .
Anadil sent a force to garrison two of the fragment vaults. Dule's Shadows, following them, moved to defend the third vault, named Caulnalain. But Dule's fellow generals had also witnessed the movements of the Undead, and made ready an assault. This, they decided, would be the decisive battle of the campaign to free their friend.
Complicating things further, there was a third faction of Shadows in the world, predating Ilservian. They were neither loyal to him, nor to the rogue Dule. These Shadows were even farther from what they had once been. They were a single mind in myriad bodies, subordinate to the will of. . . something. It was these ancient creatures that brought about the Darkest Night. While Ferah and Ler Rhan's Thorns attacked Cragstone and Arwic, drawing the attentions of the defenders, the elder Shadows destroyed a long-buried circle of standing stones beneath the oasis of Tufa.
Even as the rubble of Arwic was settling, Ler Rhan's forces invested Anadil's garrison at the Fenmalain vault. The fighting was fierce and lethal, but ultimately indecisive. Reinforcements promised by Dule failed to arrive. Ler Rhan, livid, accused Dule of treason. Before any action could be taken by the divided Shadows, the Isparians came into the fray again. They swept through all three vaults, battering through both Anadil and Dule's defenders, and destroyed all three crystals. Again, the immigrant races had served as an unpredictable force of change.
The fate of the world hinged now on the final piece of the council's trap. This was the most cunningly hidden one, titled the Shard of the Herald. The Undead found it first, again through the divinations of Asmolum. It brooded in the catacombs beneath the Cathedral of Ithaenc, near at hand to Anadil's encampment.
Almost as soon as Anadil was informed, the Shadows knew, for they had long infiltrated the rotting army. When the Undead attempted to gain access, they found the final portal had been altered such that only those who'd sworn themselves to Ilservian could pass through.
Taken aback, the Undead leadership split the key to the catacombs into three pieces. The first remained in the keeping of Aerfalle, the second given to the commander of the Undead legion from Chalicmere Castle in the Direlands, and the last to the head of the legion lent by Aerfalle's own political faction. Again, the Shadow infiltrators among the Undead foiled their plans. The last commander was murdered, and his key given to the keeping of Ler Rhan's Shadow Children.
Anadil sent emissaries to make contact with the enigmatic Virindi, knowing them to be similarly distressed by the chaos of the Shadows, and thus potential allies.
One last time, the humans acted unexpectedly. Finding new paths to Ithaenc, a tide of human warriors and mages flooded Anadil and his army. The old general was slain, but not before asking his attackers to take up his burden. “Don't let it end like this, young ones. If you must send me to the wind, my task is yours to complete. Protect the stone.”
And so they did. An unprecedented coalition of Isparian barons recovered the pieces of the key, and set a watch on the catacombs and the terrible, hallucination-inducing black stone that hummed and spun at its heart. The stalwart members of the Shard Vigil repulsed several attacks by humans in the service of Ilservian.
Frustrated, Ferah and Ler Rhan assumed human guise once more to contact the Dark Masters. Blackthorn, who had turned his coat and become a member of the Vigil, wisely disappeared for a week. Vidorian, however, sought out her aggrieved masters, and begged forgiveness for her failure to break the Vigil and the stone.
On a quiet night in the third week of the Vigil, the two Shadow generals and Vidorian swept into the dungeon, driving the defenders back and shattering the Shard of the Herald. With a shriek that could be heard across worlds, Ilservian Palacost was freed.
Isin Dule knew his time would be all too brief once Ferah and Ler Rhan spoke with Ilservian. Thus he offered assistance to the fledgling Virindi-Undead alliance.
With a heavy heart, I decided I must also cast my die with this unsavory coalition.
All unknown, we gathered in the wastelands that mark the wreckage of the Jailne Lyceum -- the place at which Ilservian was last defeated. Each of the inhuman powers held an item that would sap the power of our Enemy. I believed I had the knowledge to combine these items into a single, united thaumaturgic assault.
But the time was not yet right; the items had to be prepared. So it was that I challenged Ilservian openly. It was nearly my end. That which empowers him is far beyond my feeble powers. Had he not been determined to toy with me, I should have died most swiftly.
While I distracted the Enemy, Lady Elysa Strathelar set her feet upon the roads of the world, seeking knowledge of which monarchs could be trusted and which could not. She charged those who walked in light with the recovery and safe transport of the various pieces of the spell. The items were to be delivered to Luminary Golems in the Isparian capital cities. These entities, relics of ancient and lost demiurgic arts, were immune to the influence of shadow.
The children of the other sun recovered the items. The great binding was cast, and Ilservian was much enfeebled. At this, humanity charged into the breach. Their losses were terrible. The man of Daralet had already surrounded himself with the misbegotten leavings of elemental chaos. These things lurked among the flapping, green-tinted membranes of his inner sanctum, where the walls breathed and ate the flesh of men. After numerous assaults, a coordinated team of mages, warriors, and archers destroyed the physical form of Ilservian Palacost.
But this was not the end of him; rather, it was the end of the part of him that remained mortal. His dark spirit descended, summoned by whatever created him. Before he left, his scream of betrayal was heard by the triumphant humans. “Dule! Base traitor! I sense your art in this artifact assembled by the last Yalain. Thee and thine are banished from Our sight for all time, and ye shall be hunted until the stars fall from their course! Marked are thee!”
Ilservian's story, then, has not ended. He goes on. His generals Ferah and Ler Rhan go on. And his best friend Dule, somewhere in the lonely wastes, also goes on. The seeds sown here may not be reaped for a generation, but their poison will spread. There will be accounting. We have only won a reprieve.
These were the reagents of the binding. A fragment of the Virindi Singularity was used to divert a portion of Bael'Zharon's power into the wilds of portalspace. The Heart of Shadow, supplied by Isin Dule, was a partial manifestation of Bael'Zharon's connection to the Shadow World. Its destruction sapped him of still more power. Last came the skull of a child, enchanted with lost Falatacot bindings by the Dericost Undead.
The skull of Avroen Palacost, the son of Ilservian. The skull of a child of Daralet.
Think kindly on Ilservian, if you can. Who among you can claim that your grief should be less?
For my part I will bow my head, and pray that father and son may find peace.
-- Asheron Realaidain