In homes, at churches, on the paths; demons are everywhere. There is death; so much death. Whole civilizations are gone... Sacred places are gone… There are scars on the world… These are scars that will not soon heal… Faith crumbles into dust; gods flee the world or die, trees burn to ash, oceans run dry…

The world will never be the same…

- The Book of the Arrani, Passage 6:17

 

About nine months ago…

For Janus Ivillious, life was good. Over the last seven years, his power had launched to a limit of which he would never have dreamed. He was an accomplished sorcerer, a white sorcerer, and a well loved one.  He had countless friends who cared about him back in Travance. Three days ago he received a letter written on white linen. It was an invitation to join the Order of the Ivory Tower, a secretive society of white sorcerers.  He traveled there now. He had also received a letter from a certain woman, for whom he secretly had feelings.  It was a very sweet and endearing letter wishing him luck and mentioning her anticipation for his return. Yes, life was good for Janus Ivillious.  He could not be more satisfied.

Through the Asguardian Mountains his path took him, particularly over the high road that crosses Dorrins Peak. The wind along this narrow path was hard to bear at times.  Fortunately, he had a thick cloak, a wide cowl and a determination not likely to be defeated.  As he came upon the highest point of the mountain, something odd caught his attention.  There was a faint light coming from a crevice in the cliff side.  He only noticed because it was brightness in the quickly growing dark. As he stood before the crevice, a howling wind whistled out from within and it mesmerized his mind. He stood a while longer, listening and watching the light grow brighter as his surroundings intensified in darkness . . . Finally, he walked toward it.  Without fully knowing why, he went in. 

He was in an oddly shaped, dimly lit cave. The weak light did not illuminate much, nor did it reveal its source.  Strangely, he did not feel the wind which he had heard upon approaching the crevice.  Instead, the sounds of something spinning, like a wooden wheel, came from the depths of the fissure. Cautiously proceeding, he followed a bend that opened into a chamber.  The scene before him was far different from the dim entrance. A spacious room was filled with fabrics and tapestries.  They were hung on the walls, rolled up, and stacked from floor to ceiling.  There were also massive baskets of cotton here and there. In the middle of it all were three elderly women wearing common clothes.  They seemed to be working hard at their tasks. One woman fed the cotton into a spindle and, from it, spun thread. Another woman was weaving the thread onto a giant loom. The last appeared to be aiding the other two with their tasks. All of this was an extremely odd sight to Janus. It was highly out of place here in a cave high atop a mountain, with no towns for miles.  He called out to them, but they ignored his presence and continued their work diligently.  Not knowing what else to do, he slowly moved about the room.  All the while he thought on this peculiar scene. He noticed his own movements seemed to be ever so slightly slowed.  It was an effect he had noticed before when dealing with planar shifts. Perhaps he was no longer where he thought he was. Years of life in Travance had given him experience with planar rifts and tears and the more he thought on this observation the more he believed it possible. Some of the images in the room slowly began to melt away and reveal themselves for what they really were.  The thread that they worked turned so wispy it could barely be seen if not for the tiny sparkles of blue light that occasionally traveled along it.  The women were beautiful astral creatures, indescribable by mortal words. The loom was a frame of sorts, where images flashed within at an incredible speed.  Sometimes the images formed moving scenes of varying lengths.

Again, Janus called out to the creatures; again, they ignored him. He cautiously walked about the room. He realized that the depictions on the tapestries strewn about the room seemed to portray moments of history, some very recent. He looked up at the loom. “This must be the future,” he thought as he stood and stared at it for a while. The visions portrayed on the loom were horrifying and forced Janus to struggle to keep his composure.  Demons were everywhere. They were in homes, at churches, on the paths; There was death; so much death. Whole civilizations were gone... Sacred places were gone… There were scars upon the world… These were scars that will not soon heal.  Janus’s breath choked in his throat as he realized that the world would never be the same.  With horror in his heart, he continued to watch as the scenes worsened. Faith crumbled to dust; gods fled the world or died, trees burned to ash, oceans ran dry… All forms of life on Arawyn were extinguished and replaced by demons.  His dearest and most precious friends were no exception. He could bear no more of this. His strength failed him and he fell to the ground.

Through blurry tear-filled eyes, he looked up at the astral creatures and noticed that they simply continued to work. “This can’t be our future…” he said to them.  There was no response. He cleared his throat, “There must be a way to change our path.” He spoke more loudly and there was still no response. “How can we change this?!” He shouted at them, still, no response. He choked on his tears and the lump in his throat was so large that he had barely the ability to make sound.  Even so, somehow he managed to scream at the top of his lungs, “ANSWER ME!!!”

Exhausted his gaze fell to the cold stone floor. Suddenly the sound of spinning stopped, replaced by an eerie silence. Janus looked up to see the three creatures staring at him, as if they had only at this moment noticed his presence. He could say nothing more, he was too drained. He simply stared at them with desperation in his heart.  Then, with a voice indescribable by mortal words, one of them spoke. “Only great sacrifice, great selflessness and great devotion have the power to move mountains.” Very slowly, they turned their attention back to their work and meticulously continued. The sad realization hit Janus:  at that moment there was nothing more that could be done there.

Janus dragged himself out of the cave, back the way he had come. Outside it was dawn.  Time moved by slower in the astral plane than in the prime material plane. With his mind too full of thought, he continued to walk up to the very top of the mountain. There, he sat down upon a large fallen tree. For an entire hour, he sat there watching a single squirrel run about and forage for food. His thoughts raced a mile a minute and danced everywhere and anywhere.  Always they came back to the fact that he was a white sorcerer who had cast upon himself:  “The Ritual of The Legacy”. He had heard miraculous stories about this ritual and what it would do upon the sorcerers’ final death.  As a white sorcerer, he had the ability to end his life on the prime material plane at any time and merge with the weave. This, too, was at the foremost of his thoughts.

For the entire day he sat there, enjoying every moment in this beautiful place: every simple creature that stirred and every light breeze that passed over him were true joys. He felt the majesty of it all and he felt blessed.  As dusk approached, his thoughts wandered to what the inside of the ivory tower might look like, to what it would be like to kiss the one he yearned for and to what his beloved friends might be doing right now or in the days to come.  Then his thoughts strayed to The Weave. It is part of everything and anything that exists in the world.  It travels everywhere, sees all, and flows through all.  If his spirit merged with it, he would see the Ivory Tower. He would know the touch of his love. He would always see his friends. On this, his very last thought on this world, his mind lingered but for a little while and then he smiled.

At that exact moment, in an unknown location on the world of Arawyn, a beautiful white mare gives birth to a Pegasus: a living breathing Exemplar. Such a majestic and powerful creature of purity had not existed in this world since the First Age of man.

Also, at that exact moment, The Asguardian Mountains, moved ten feet…

 *      *     *     *     *

In recent days…

The Master Portal was almost ready. All of the portals could transport hordes of demons of various lesser ranks and even some of truly great power.  However, Xualla needed to craft a superior portal for this very special occasion. It was a challenge enough to create one with sufficient power to convey both himself and Balfurous at will.   It was an even greater challenge to create a portal capable of permanently acclimating his life force to its destination. This one he called his Master Portal.  All that was left to make it complete was for Xualla to sacrifice his Abyssal Tether into it.

Xualla stood atop the Shadow Spire on his balcony looking down onto the field far below. Balfurous had just hewn through some escapees and now he was picking up stray demons by the scruff of their neck and throwing them back into the cage.  The enclosure was a massive cage filled with thousands of demons.  Xualla called this group of demons his martyrs. When Master Portal was opened into Travance, these demons would go with them, and one by one their life force will be sacrificed to create a new dark tower.  It would be a mirror image of the Shadow Spire; his seat of command on his new permanent home plane.  The martyrs were being conditioned to accept their fate, a worthy cause for demon kind. Most of them were acclimating well enough.

Xualla stared down at the scene below and saw the realization of his plans close at hand.  This would be his final trip to the prime material plane. His last two attempts to stay there were met with disappointment.  First, at the hands of a dragon, and then by the bastard son of one.  Xualla rubbed the cursed brand on his head; it maintained a constant pain that he had learned to ignore over the centuries. It was an endless reminder of his past failures but it had helped him to grow strong in the Abyss.  Yes, this time would be different, in fact, it already was. He had won. The planes had collapsed and his chaos portals flowed freely with his invasion. The brink of no return had already been crossed.  The world had spun into chaos.  He had only to go forth and build his throne on his new home and begin his new dominion. For the Demon Prince Xualla, life was good.

*     *     *     *     *

In recent days…

“Jonathan Travance believes, that is enough for me,” the King spoke the words to his advisor and royal scribe. Deep beneath the Black Keep in Winterdark, the royal court had been assembled in a large torch lit vault.  They were modest accommodations compared to that which was their standard; but this was a desperate time. Their dress, living quarters, work quarters, and ration system were all humble and designed for efficiency as opposed to luxury. The King wanted to be on the battlefield, but those charged with his safety finally convinced him otherwise.  All of the battles had been deemed futile.

Jonathan Travance had been telling them about a dream he had while in Klarington’s Time Vault. The dream had been a vision of Janus Ivillious, his last days on Arawyn, and the Pegasus.  Jonathan believed that this was a vision of actual events and not merely a dream. He believed that the power of a living breathing Exemplar, particularly that of a Pegasus, could somehow fix the planar damage, destroying all the portals that the demons have been using to invade our world.  “Jonathan Travance believes, that is enough for me,” the King repeated.  “If these battles are hopeless, then we shall stop trying to win. Send orders to all warfronts that they are to fall back into a defensive position and survive for as long as possible. Every warfront is to donate ten scouts and send them searching for the Pegasus.  Send twenty scouts from the Black Keep. Send word to Travance that they are to deploy a dozen or more in search of any sign of the Pegasus. Provide every scout with a Gatestone. The Kingdom has one hundred; give out every last one of them if need be!”

“Any other orders your Majesty?” asked the scribe as his quill tip frantically scratched at the parchment.

The King paused to take a sip of water and carefully consider his next commands. “Send word to the Baronies and Counties that their highest ranking noble has full authority to suspend or alter any of my Kormyrian Laws, if they believe it will help them survive. These are the most desperate times in all of Kormyre’s history.  I will not refuse aid from any man who has the same desire to survive as I do, even if this man has previously been my enemy. If we fight each other when the world is falling apart around us, then we deserve our deaths. If we stand together as a people united in the cause of survival, then we deserve life.  By the gods we will have it!” The King pounded his fist on the table and stood.

Jonathan Travance and Count Winterdark stood beside the King.  All three men exuded an aura of stern, solemn resolve.  For the sake of all who looked to them for answers, they had to act as if everything was going to be fine. Things, however, were far from fine. The Count clutched in his hand rolled up reports that he intended to share with the King. They were death reports. The casualties had been so high, that the names were eventually turned into groupings of numbers in order to fit on the parchments. There had been no word from Glangsdale, it has been rumored that the entire barony was lost. There were reports that on the kingdom side of the rift, blood runs up the cliff walls and pours into a lake in Fenrick. It is speculated that Lord Inverness’s Army fights every day to reclaim the Kings Castle in Alliander.  It is deemed by most of his men a lost fight; but Lord Inverness refuses to cede and will surely die fighting.   

These three most powerful men stood in this vault unable to save the world. That task now lay in the hands of every man, woman and child who resolved to fight against impossible odds for their very existence. These three most powerful men knew not how this would end; but they shared one common understanding that one singular fact would hold true no matter what:  the world would never be the same. 

 

Xualla Balfurous

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