A long time ago…
The cleanser known as Antiamal paced about the room… “We have taken back all the great items of power, all the lores to make these are gone, now there are just these minor shells waiting to be filled with a power that no longer exists in the world, surely these cannot be of any harm.”
Asterlyn, another cleanser, and long time colleague to Antiamal, responded to his friends spoken thoughts. “They went through the trouble of ridding the world of runic power, if anyone even suspects, they could tap into it, rediscover it, then we’ll be out here again, collecting even more of these things.”
“But we don’t have to actually transport them all back, just make sure they aren’t found, right? I mean… If we were to hide them, link them to the power they were forged with, and invert their perception, people would walk right past them and never know.”
Asterlyn looked worried, “If we were found out, we would be banished, or worse.”
“We wont be found out, and we can safeguard their access with riddle, puzzles and the such. Don’t you see, if we were ever in trouble, we could always find these things, and use them.” Antiamal continued in a more hushed tone. “I will confide in you, I’ve done it plenty of times, and no-one has ever been the wiser, I’ve hidden items, knowledge, and all kinds of things, nothing too powerful mind you, that they would notice. I figure one day, something’s going to go down, and when it does, Antiamal isn’t going to get caught out in the storm of fate without a few tricks up his sleeve.” He saw the look on his colleagues face and decided he needed to continue. “Look Asterlyn, The watchers are the ones who are truly valued by the council. We are the cleansers… the clean-up men… our talents can be duplicated by most. Were just not important to them, and sooner or later we are going to be left to our own devices. When that time comes, I… no; we will be prepared.”
Asterlyn let out a sigh. He knew there was no turning back now, the only question in his mind was which to fear more, the wrath of the council if ever they found out, or the Storm of Fates, that they were surely helping to come to pass…
The world is in chaos, much of our kingdom, and other kingdoms lay in waste. While Travance and the Pegasus gave many people hope, others have spent the last month looking at the ruin that is their lives. Some have banded together to make sense of the world they are left in. Why did they survive? Why did so many have to die? Some believed that the gods were destroyed, to have allowed such travesties to occur. Still others twisted their former beliefs to the new world, and claimed themselves prophets. One thing all these had in common, the tales of Travance, relatively untouched by the demon armies, and the demon plague that is now spreading across the land.
Around a fire, in a refugee camp, a group of survivors argue with one another…
“The gods are dead!”
“Fool, the gods are not dead, they have come together to fight the demons.”
“Your both wrong! The demons were made by the gods to purge us of our sins. The demons released the good souls, and kept us here as punishment for our wickedness.”
“Speak for yourself old man, I was a devout follower of Valos.”
“Until I found out his real name, Visagalis.”
“You’ve been eating the wrong mushrooms Gesika, there ain’t no gods left, look at this place, I bet even Chronicler stopped writing for lack of interest in us.”
“I heard some folks started following the demons around, doing favors for them in exchange for food and stuff.”
“I heard some folk have began worshipping all kinds of things, the wind, the sun. Others began worshipping dark things, like death, and fear, all weird like, and I’m not talking about the old gods, I mean as if death itself was a thing to be worshipped. The Embrace of Eternal Peace, they called it. Said that for a donation, they would bring you to the embrace… I just ran.”
The strong looking but elderly newcomer to the group took a step closer to the fire and warmed his hands. “I would like to meet these people, I was a follower of Galamachis before the demons came.”
The camp went silent, a few people slowly noted where their weapons were, and looked at each other, uncertain of what to do. Unmoved, the man continued. “I was an Obsidian Raptor for the path of Kagen. We worshipped death, and we believed that when we killed we became death for our victims, releasing them from the torture that is life. We became a god for that one moment, and it was glorious each and every time. The power of a god to release a soul from the prison of life…. I personally rescued over a thousand souls from this world. My skills weaken with age, and I ache for the day when my sacrifice is over and I pass from this world. The world however needs me now more than ever, how can I be so selfish as to deny people the gift of release from this hell just for my own escape. I hear your prayers, and I will answer them."
The next morning a soldier carrying supplies came across the refugee camp, each and every man woman and child was dead except one. Gessika explained how her god had kept her safe as she witnessed the slaughter. What she didn’t say is how she also gained a convert that day. There are many aspects to the god, and death is one of them.
* * * * *
Across Palmydia homes, families, and entire communities are devastated. Crops that weren’t burned are being horded, game is getting harder to come across, and people are dying of starvation and disease. As time drags on, morals give way to survival.
“We have nothing, Sara. No food, no house, no nothing, and three kids to feed.”
“We have our faith in Valos, that will see us through this.”
“I’m not sure we have that anymore. At least I’m pretty sure I don’t.”
“Hush Thomas, the children can hear you.”
“They have to know, this is survival. We need to make a decision right now if we live through the week, or die.”
“But Thomas, you’ve always said the law is all that keeps us from savagery, the only thing that keeps the world from descending into chaos.”
“Look around Sara, the world’s already in chaos, and little Jorja isn’t doing so well, I’m going to bring the boys and see what we can get. There’s bound to be food locked up in that castle, and most of the good fighting men are dead. If we’re lucky, we won’t be seen.”
“And if you are?”
“Well, I’d suggest heading east with Jorja, word has it the other side of the rift wasn’t hit too bad.”
“What are you saying Thomas?
“I love you Sara, don’t you forget that… I love you so much.”
The number of refugees crossing the rift grows each day, and with their coming, there is concern of the ability to feed all of them, house all of them, manage all of them. How do you turn away people who have lost everything, and yet, do you choose to have your people starve as well for the sake of strangers? Sometimes the hero we need is someone who can make tough decisions about life and death on a battlefield… though sometimes the hero we need is someone who can make tough decisions about life and death when the main enemies to defeat are hunger and exposure.
* * * * *
The Underdark barely noticed the passing of the Demon War up above, certainty some had harassed their trading partners the Dark Dwarves, but it had little effect on the Houses. Now with the surface in such disarray, it was perfect time for strikes onto the surface. Each night, the Dark Elves went forth to raid the surface dwellers, taking food, taking slaves, taking anything they desired. If the world could not be cast into eternal darkness, this was the next best thing. Very little thought or concern was given to why the Dark Elves were left unmolested by the demon horde. Being below the surface had its advantages, out of sight, out of mind. Now all that was left is to take advantage of the chaos the demons had brought, though the politics of the Underdark are always treacherous, and opportunities are seldom passed by.
A dark elven male stood in a large underground anti-chamber. Beside him an impressive pile of jewelry had been thrown recklessly to the floor. He has just suffered a major set back, both personally and for his life long cause… “Joril” he uttered the dark elven word for junk, and spat on the floor with disgust.
For this particular Dark Elf, for his entire life, his fortune had swung like a pendulum. The good and bad would always follow one right after another, and this time had been no different. As fate had taken from him a great deal of his personal power, with its other hand it presented him with a unique and potent opportunity, one that he could not rationalize against no matter how hard he tried. It was now or never, and Don’Kellard finally decided after much thought, that the time was now.
He turned silently on a heal, to face the massive power that breathed heavily in the darkness, and spoke aloud to it. “Very well. Once you have helped me to liberate the houses from the shackles of their old ways, a united, unified, and more powerful nation will pay back your debt with the blood of your enemies.”
The breathing was loud, labored, and monstrous… but more than that… it was followed by a deep and disturbing laughter…