Introduction to the Lore of Shadowbane
Due to the length of this article, the following will link within this page:
- A Brief History of the World
- A Question of Times
- The Age of Twilight
- The Children of the World
- The Terror of Terrors
- The Threat of the Newborn Sun and the Times of Parting
- The Taming
- The Birth of the Giants and the Weltwyrdangssaga
- The Age of Days
- The Shadow First Falls
- The Creation of Humanity and the Rise of Ardan
- The War of the Stones
- The Wars of Spite and the Fall of Ardan
- The Birth of the Irekei and the War of Flames
- The Scourge of Chaos and the Grand Alliance
- The Tide Turns
- The End of the War and the End of the Age
- The Age of Kings
- The Rise of Ethyria and the Times of Peace
- The Amazon Exodus
- The Fall of Ethyria, the Human Diaspora and the Ten Kingdoms
- The Holy Church Reborn
- The Return of Morloch and the War of Ashes
- The Coming of the War of Tears: Konrad's Boast
- The Rise of Cambruin and the Foundation of the High Kingdom
- The War of Tears Resumes, and Humanity Prevails
- The Day of Woe and the Turning
- The Age of Strife
- The Sundered World
- Life, Death, and Undeath
- The New Races
- The Rise of New Magic
- The Fate of the Gods and the Crisis of Faith
- An Age of Strife
A Brief History of the World
Loremasters and Chroniclers have counted and recorded more than five thousand years since Time began in the World of Shadowbane, and the World was already ancient when Time began. A complete account of the entire history of the World is beyond the scope of this book (or any other single book, for that matter), even if all the facts and details were still available. Unfortunately, a succession of bitter wars and the tumult of the Turning have caused too many ancient volumes to be destroyed or lost. The history of the World is quickly falling into the shadow of obscurity, and even the most erudite Scholars rarely agree on the details of any given event. History is, is the end, is just another story. The beliefs and bias of its author taint any chronicle. Ask an elder Elf Wizard to describe the Taming, for example, and he will tell a very different tale than a Centaur Crusader, who only knows the event from ancient tales passed down from his forefathers.
The following account of the History of the World is designed to give the player a basic understanding of the events that have shaped the World of Shadowbane. It is slanted slightly towards the Human version of events but still manages a high degree of objectivity.
A Question of Times
While most folk in the World of Shadowbane divide the long tide of history into four Ages, the Scholars of different peoples give them different names and even choose different beginning and ending points for the Ages of Time.
The Elves and Centaurs were both traumatized by the rising of the Dragon, and they therefore mark that event and the kindling of the Sun as the ending of an Age. Men have no memory of the great battle on Hennan Gallorach, however, and ignore that event, as do the Dwarves, who were largely unaffected by it. Likewise, when the All-Father defeated the forces of Chaos and proclaimed that Men were the rightful rulers of the World, Humans affirm that a new Age had begun, while the Elves belittle the importance of the event by ignoring the Age of Kings altogether. The beginning of Time and the Turning were both monumental events that changed the fundamental nature of the World, transition points none of the civilizations of the World can ignore.
Scholars are often frustrated by the inconsistencies in Age division among the various races. A fragment of an inscription mentioning events that took place in "the fourth year of the Third Age" would raise as many questions as it answers: Which third age? The Elvish Age of Days, the Human Age of Kings, or as a Dwarf might reckon it, the fourth year after the Turning? Assigning names to the ages helps solve this problem, but even here confusion can arise. Most characters in the World of Shadowbane have better things to do than argue about historical minutia, and that's probably for the best!
The Age of Twilight
Few except the oldest Elves recall this Age, when Time was but a dream and the Gods still walked upon Aerynth. The surviving accounts touch upon only the greatest events of this primal era. All began in darkness, for there was not yet a Sun, and Aerynth was blessed with two moons, one of silver and one of gold.
The First Age of the World began when four mighty Gods first appeared upon the face of the World. These ancient Gods, still worshipped to this day, were the All-Father and his three Companions: Thurin the Shaper, Kenaryn the Hunter, and Malog the Warrior. Ancient accounts disagree over the question of whether the All-Father actually created the World and the two moons or simply found them floating in the depths of the Void. At the beginning of things, the World was barren, covered in ice, and rife with chasms, rifts, and jagged peaks. In the midst of all that desolation, the All-Father found a withered stem half buried in the snows and breathed His power and essence into it. The stem grew into a mighty oak, the World Tree, and in its branches sat Braialla, the Green Mother, Goddess of the earth and all that grows. Braialla sang a great song, and as she sang the ice receded, and the barren world bloomed into life. Grass, trees, and all manner of plants sprang up before the eyes of the All-Father and His companions, and the newborn forests and glades teemed with beasts of all descriptions.
The Children of the World
The oldest races of the World appeared soon after Braialla's awakening and the first Spring. The All-Father took the Green Mother as his wife, and from their union sprang Sidhe, firstborn and mightiest of the Elves. Thurin descended deep into Aerynth, working hard to mend the many fissures and fractures that marred the World's core. The labors were too much for even a God to finish alone, so Thurin fashioned his children, the Dwarves, out of stone, and the Dwarves helped Thurin in his labors. Kenaryn the Hunter, while chasing a magical Silver Trout, journeyed to the Silver Moon, and there the Hunter found Braialla's sister Saedron, the Moon Goddess, imprisoned in a pillar of ice. The Hunter freed and awakened Saedron, and soon after, he married the Goddess of Magic and Fate. Their children were the mighty Centaurs, renowned for their honor, strength of arms, and wisdom. Saedron awakened her twin sister Volliandra, Goddess of the Golden Moon, the Mistress of Dreams; and the number of Gods rose to seven. Malog wooed and finally wed Volliandra, but theirs was a strained marriage, and the Golden Goddess bore no children.
The Gods and their children transformed Aerynth into a paradise beneath the eternal twilight. The Elves founded the Twilight Kingdom, ruled by Gilliandor the Eldest Elf, and learned many secrets of Magic and Lore from Saedron and Volliandra. The Centaurs roamed with their father, riding with the winds to the edges of the World and back. Unseen and unknown, the Dwarves labored in the deep, delving halls and holds, shoring up weak roofs and bridging chasms. Time had not yet been born, and the Elves built lofty towers of glass, alabaster, and crystal and filled the air with songs of beauty and glory. Peace and tranquility reigned supreme, until the coming of the Dragon.
The Terror of Terrors
No one, not even the Gods, knows whence the Dragon came or how long it had slept in the darkest cavern deep below Aerynth. It has been forgotten how the Terror was found or what caused it to wake. What is remembered in the laments of the Elves is that the Dragon, Terror of Terrors who spawned all the Drakes, awakened from its slumber deep underground and writhed about in anger, shaking the surface of Aerynth. Earthquakes, floods, storms, and all manner of calamities swept through the lands of the Elves and Centaurs, and the great Elvish cities were all laid waste. But even these disasters were trivial compared to the rising of the Terror itself.
On an ancient field that the Elves renamed Hennan Gallorach, the Field of Sorrow, the Dragon burst from the ground and met the full might of the Twilight Kingdom in battle. The greatest Lords, Blade Weavers, and Wizards who ever lived all attacked the Terror and died by the thousands. The Gods themselves entered the fray, but Thurin and the All-Father could not contain the Dragon's fury. At the height of the battle, the Dragon breathed a great stream of flame into the sky, blasting Vollianth the Golden Moon. The Moon caught fire, thus the Sun was kindled. Kenaryn the Hunter finally arrived and joined the fight, driving his mighty spear into the beast's eye. The Dragon withdrew to its lair and resumed its sleep. Although the Terror had been vanquished, the World was changed forever.
On the Golden Moon, Volliandra and Malog were both caught unprepared by the Dragon's flame. Volliandra died in unspeakable agony, and Saedron felt her twin sister's pain. The agony drove Saedron mad, and from her agony was born Grallokur the Devourer, a hideous monster nearly as horrible as the Dragon itself. Grallokur fell upon the Centaurs and ravaged their lands, already laid waste by the Dragon's tremors. Malog had been horribly burned by the Dragonfire, his handsome face forever ruined, and he fell back to Aerynth as a comet of flame. The Twilight Kingdom was destroyed, and the devastated Elves began to rebuild.
The All-Father rested in the courts of the Elves for a long time, and there he fathered Draethen, the True Son. Kenaryn returned to his children and called for the Long Hunt against Grallokur, which he and his chosen continue to this day. Distraught by his wounds and the death of his wife, Malog the Warrior withdrew into painful solitude and hid thereafter from the eyes of Elves and Gods. Thurin returned to the halls of the Dwarves, and there he forged the Shadowbane, the Sword of Legend, to slay the Dragon if ever it should rise again. The Shaper gave the blade to Sillestor, an Elflord, and then wandered away down roads no Bard can name.
The Threat of the Newborn Sun and the Times of Parting
The Sun shone down upon the heart of the Kingdom of Twilight unceasingly, for Time had not yet started. Under the oppressive heat, the lands began to wither, and soon the great forests and peaceful meadows were transformed into the Burning Lands, parched deserts of pale sand and bleached stone. The Elves of the Twilight Kingdom withdrew from the desolation, to far corners of the World where twilight still lingered. The aftermath of the Dragon's rising brought the fair folk nothing but strife, and a new era began for them, an Age remembered as the Times of Parting.
The Elves now split into four distinct groups, each ruled by a lord or lady believed to be the rightful heir to Gilliandor's throne. The Dar Khelegur (an Elvish name meaning "High Ice Lords") finally conquered two of the other Elvish nations, forging the Deathless Empire. Sillestor ruled the Deathless Empire, and none could oppose him, for he held Shadowbane, greatest of all weapons. Only the Red Elves, the Khalinviri ("Children of the Sun") escaped Sillestor's dominion, for they chose to remain in the Burning Lands, adapting to the cruel conditions there. The Elves tried to quench the fires of the Sun, but such a thing was beyond the power of their magic.
The Centaurs withdrew to the Vast Plains, and their nations were slow to recover from the twin scourges of the Dragon and Grallokur. Appalled by the madness of their mother, Saedron, Centaurs remained loyal to the Hunter and his master the All-Father. They saw little of the Elves during the Times of Parting, for the growing deserts separate their kingdoms. The rulers of the Deathless Empire grew cruel and jaded, devoting themselves to foul sorcery and wicked pleasures. In time, they stopped worshipping the All-Father altogether, turning instead to the Beast Lords, primal forces that manifested in the shape of great animals.
While His eldest children turned from Him, the All-Father journeyed far and wide, searching for a way to mend the damage the newborn Sun was inflicting on the World. All His attempts to douse the Dragon's fire failed, and the All-Father was at his wit's end, when Saedron gave Him a solution: If the Sun moved, Time would be created, alternating day and night, and sparing the world. The All-Father set out to change the World, but before He could start the count of Time, He was called back to Aerynth to intervene in the Taming.
As the Age of Twilight began to wane, the Centaurs discovered that the Elves had pulled down the All-Father's temples and cathedrals, turning to the worship of the Beast Lords and foul Demons from the Void. Appalled, the Centaurs rebuked their Elvish cousins and chastised their blasphemy and wickedness, and a great war erupted between the Deathless Empire and the Horse Lords. Kenaryn the Hunter intervened to help his children, but the Elves invoked the Beast Lords themselves, and the avatars of the animal gods were more than a match for the Hunter's power.
Finally, the All-Father roused his host of Archons and descended into the fray, where He personally defeated the Beast Lords one by one, while the Archons put the Elves to flight. Sillestor raised Shadowbane against the All-Father, but Thurin slew the Elfking, and with his death the Treason of the Elves ended. Loremasters and Chroniclers remember that dreadful war as the Taming, the time when the All-Father broke the power of the primal Beasts and gained dominion over them. The Elves turned back to His worship and briefly turned from their wicked ways. Thurin took Shadowbane back to the Dwarves and hid it with them for safekeeping. The All-Father went into seclusion and set into motion a series of events that would forever change the world.
The Birth of the Giants and the Weltwyrdangssaga
No reliable account of the journeys and trials of the All-Father have survived to the present, and Loremasters are left with the scattered fragments of myths and legends to hint at what truly took place at the end of the Age of Twilight. All that is known for certain is that the All-Father somehow mastered the arts of Animation and Rune Casting, and he gained a deep understanding of the future of the World. In the furthest reaches of the icy North, the All-Father crafted His second children, the Giants, and taught them the secrets of the runes. The Giants then began work with the All-Father, carving the future destiny of the World onto the Cliffs of Fate. The Northmen still recall the name of that great story: the Weltwyrdangssaga, or the Tale of the World's Fate.
The Giants, it is said, saw their doom foretold in the great story that they carved, and they turned on the All-Father in their rage, smashing the Cliffs of Fate. By breaking the mighty rune, however, they set its power into motion, thus Time began. The Age of Twilight finally ended, and the Age of Days began.
The Age of Days
Some Scholars assert that the Age of Twilight was the age of Elves, and that the Age of Kings was the great age of Men. The Age of Days that fell between these two eras was a time of splendor, conflict, and turmoil, when the World had no clear masters and all its peoples mixed in war and peace.
When Time began, the Sun, Moon, and Stars were set in motion, spinning slowly around the World. Thus, every part of the World came to know the Sun, and Day was divided from Night. Once the Sun began to move, its heat was no longer a threat to the World, and the Burning Lands stopped growing. Though the World was saved from the Dragon's lingering wrath, salvation bore a price. Every Elf, Centaur, or Giant born in the New Age was bound to the count of years, doomed to age and die in their appointed time. The Centaurs bore their mortality with honor, never doubting the will of the All-Father. The Elves and Giants would prove far less gracious.
The Shadow First Falls
Time brought with it other troubles, far more sinister. In the Age of Twilight, the Spirits of the Dead never troubled the living. Once Time began, however, the souls of the slain found themselves trapped in the World and either plagued the living as formless Haunts or rose up in dead flesh, creating the Skeletons and Zombies of the Unholy Legion. Men and Elves fought bitter yet victorious wars against the rising numbers of Undead, but the problem still remained. The All-Father spent most of the Age of Days wandering the Void and even the Dark, searching for a means to guide the Spirits of the dead to their final destination.
Finally, the All-Father returned from the Void and built a great Gate on the surface of the Silver Moon, the doorway to Heaven and Hell. By the end of the War of the Scourge, the souls of the departed could at last escape the confines of the World until the Turning.
The Creation of Humanity and the Rise of Ardan
Once Time began, the All-Father journeyed to a high valley and crafted his third race of children, Men, from the clay and soil of Aerynth. The first Humans were the Titans, and they were so infused with their creator's power that they alone of Humanity were spared the scourge of mortality, and their powers were nearly as great as those of the All-Father's great companion Gods. The All-Father intended to fashion fourteen Titans, seven men and seven women, but the vengeful Giants intervened, attacking the All-Father before he could begin work on the last of the Titans. The All-Father drew the Giants away, fearing for the safety of His children, so that when the Titans finally awakened to life they were alone in the wild.
The Titans were strong and clever, and soon learned from the Dwarves, Centaurs, and Kenaryn himself how to survive. Ardan, the firstborn of the Titans, led his people out of the North and into the fertile grasslands, where they founded the Kingdom of Ardan, a blessed realm of art, prosperity, and peace. For a thousand years, Ardan stood as the pinnacle of Human achievement. Unfortunately, the Realm of Ardan was almost completely destroyed, and very little of its lore remains. The first and greatest kingdom of Humanity was plagued by the wars and strife of this age and war finally destroyed by them.
The War of the Stones
Mere days after the new Age began, Thurin the shaper returned to the Dwarves and ordered them to keep an accurate count of days, and so they have, from the beginning of Time until the present. He also led a large group of Dwarves to the surface, the first time that any of Thurin's children walked beneath the roofless sky. Thurin took the Dwarves to the Cliffs of Fate and told them to gather all the Runestones, the scattered fragments of the Weltwyrdangssaga. The Dwarves worked at this task for most of the Age of Days, roaming to the corners of the World in search of their prizes. While on their quest, the Dwarves met and interacted with all the Children of the World: the Centaurs of the Vast Plains, the Elves of the Deathless Empire, and the men of Ardan. Thurin's children traded the secrets of stone and iron craft for Runestones, and all the peoples of the World prospered. The Giants, however, knew the power of the stones and refused to give them up. The Dwarves insisted, and the giants responded with violence. Thus began the War of the Stones, which lasted for centuries.
Although the Giants broke many Dwarfholds and fortresses and Dwarvish losses in the war were staggering, Thurin's sons eventually forced the Giants into a stalemate. By then, however, Magi among Elves and Men had learned of the Runestones' power, and all the folk quickly learned to alter their destinies by attuning themselves to the stones. Trade with the Dwarves ceased, and tensions grew as all the Children of the World refused to relinquish the stones. The War of the Stones flared up again, but this time the Dwarves fought Men, Elves, and Centaurs. The strength of them all was too much for the Dwarves to counter, and Thurin's children withdrew into the earth and sealed the doors of their halls. Dwarves would not return to the surface again until after the Turning.
The Wars of Spite and the Fall of Ardan
The Men of Ardan first met the Elves when their realm was young, and the two races were always suspicious of each other. In time, however, Ardan and the Sons of Men learned the truth of their origins, the lore of the All-Father, and the Taming from the Centaurs. Very quickly, tensions turned into war. Long spans of tension and intrigue punctuated by bloody conflicts against the Deathless Empire ensued, and for nearly a thousand years the Man of Ardan waged the Wars of Spite against the Elves. The Elves and Men were evenly matched. The Deathless Empire had been quick to recover from the Taming, and all the power of Ardan could not break it. Neither could the Elves defeat the Titans in open warfare. Driven to a stalemate on the battlefield, the cruel and devious Magi of the Elves turned to vile Magic and treachery to defeat their foe. After centuries of research, they devised a mighty spell and finally unleashed it upon the Blessed Realm.
Loremasters have named this mighty magic the Blood Curse, and it brought with it the Doom of Ardan. The Curse manifested throughout Humanity, boiling the blood of the Titans and the Sons of Men. The Curse killed many outright and drove the rest into raving madness. Humanity's destruction would have been complete if Ardan, first Titan and Lord of the Blessed Realm had not somehow drawn most of the horrible spell's power into himself, sacrificing his life for the sake of Humanity. Most Humans were reduced by the fever to mute, feral savages, little more than beasts, and the Titans who survived the Curse were hunted down and sealed into magical prisons by the Elves.
The times that followed were hard for the Sons of Men, and they are bitterly remembered as the Cruel Years, when Elves hunted Men for sport and bound them into slavery that lasted centuries. All the knowledge of Ardan was lost, and the Sons of Men were robbed of the heritage. Though the damage wrought upon their hearts and minds was grievous, the wounds healed with time. Men soon regained the power of Speech and secretly learned many skills and crafts from their masters. In time, a cunning band of slaves threw off their chains and fled from their masters to the Vast Plains, where the Centaurs found them and taught them many things.
The rebels learned both the rule of Law and the arts of War from Kenaryn's children, who also taught the escaped slaves the worship of the All-Father. The fugitives also learned of Mankind's origins and the full tale of Ardan's fall. Enraged, the renegade Men set out to avenge the wrongs that the Deathless Empire had inflicted on Mankind. Some Men founded a new, Hidden Kingdom, remembered in song and legend as the Land of Heroes, while many others crept back into the land of their former masters. Working in secret, these agents spread knowledge and hope among their fellow slaves and organized them for the coming battle. When the moment was right, the Humans struck, rising up in open rebellion against the Deathless Empire. In the midst of the revolt, a bold hero named Torvagau the Liberator found and broke the magical prisons that held the last of the Titans and freed them. The righteous fury of Humanity and the Wrath of the Titans was more than enough to prevail. The Titans rejoined the Sons of Men and tried to help them rebuild the ancient glory of Ardan. The Elves gathered their armies to punish the rebels, but the final struggle never came, for the Deathless Empire suddenly realized it had other, more pressing concerns.
The Birth of the Irekei and the War of Flames
Long before, during the Times of Parting, when the nations of Elvenkind had scattered in the face of the newborn Sun, one mighty host had chosen to stay behind, living in the Sun's harsh light. Mighty warriors, they promised to guard the blasted plain of Hennan Gallorach forever, and stand watch against the return of the Dragon. They named themselves the Khalinviri, or "Children of the Sun," and remained in the ruined heartlands of the Kingdom of Twilight even as the lands withered into deserts all around them. By the beginning of the Age of Days, they had become a fierce, harsh people, tempered by the struggle for survival in the heart of the Burning Lands. Their skins reddened by the Sun, the Khalinviri kept their vigil and came to shun their Elvish kin. Even the masters of the Deathless Empire ignored them, judging the deserts not worth conquering. Once they learned the dark secrets of the Khalinviri, however, the Elvish lords would come to regret that mistake.
Though not a soul knew it at the time, the Khalinviri had stayed in the Burning Lands not to defend against the Dragon but to worship it. The Khalinviri were led by a mighty Elflord, one of the few who had witnessed the Terror of Terrors and lived. Driven mad by the sight of the horror, he convinced his people that the Dragon was mightier even than the Gods and that it would someday rouse itself to consume the World. At that time, only its worthy servants would be spared, and the Dragon would reward them with dominion over the ruined World. Turning their backs on their Elvish heritage, they devised new customs and their own language, naming themselves Irekei, or "Those Who Endure." The sleeping Dragon spoke to the prophets and Magi of the Irekei in dreams, teaching them dark secrets and new forms of vile magic. The Irekei used their new knowledge to work a mighty spell that awoke Khalikryst, the Dragon's Daughter, Goddess of the Sun, Flames, and Discord. Some Loremasters claim that Khalikryst was a Demon of Chaos summoned to the Sun by the Red Elves, while others assert that Khalikryst is the dead Goddess Volliandra reborn, risen phoenix-like from the ashes of the Golden Moon. Whatever the truth may be, the Irekei rejoiced at Khalikryst's arrival and venerated her almost as much as they did the Dragon.
When the Age of Days began and the Sun was set in motion, the Red Elves were outraged, for now the Sun's touch was denied to them each evening. Once again, their prophets and Magi sought the counsel of the sleeping Dragon, but answers were long in coming. Finally, after more than three millennia of trial and error, the Irekei worked a mighty ritual that summoned Khalikryst to the World, freeing her from her flaming prison. The Flame Goddess descended from the sky, and the face of the Sun darkened, drawing the attention of Magi and seers the World over. Khalikryst unleashed her great fire upon the multitudes of the Irekei, and its touch transformed them forever. The beings that emerged from the firestorm were Elves no longer. They were now truly Irekei, body and soul. Khalikryst returned to the Sun, and the Irekei set to work on another mighty ritual, a spell that would heal the Dragon's wounds, rouse it from its slumbers, and bring about the destruction of the World. The spell would never be cast, however, for the Deathless Empire finally discovered the scheming of their former kin.
Confused and concerned by the ominous omen of the darkened Sun, Elvish Magi quickly divined the Khalinviri's transformation and learned the full extent of their treachery. The Deathless Empire was quick to act, sending all its strength into the Burning Lands to destroy the Khalinviri. When the great king of the Elves first beheld the fallen and transformed Elves, he named them Irekei, which in the ancient Elvish tongue means "outcasts." The Elves unleashed storms of spell and steel against the Irekei, who responded with Dragon magic and the fiery wrath of Khalikryst. The struggle that ensued, the War of Flames, lasted for generations, raging across both the Deathless Empire and the Burning Lands. The Irekei were powerful, but in the end they could not hope to defeat the Elves, who had overcome even the Titans. The Elvish Hosts finally broke the power of the Irekei, destroyed all of their cities, and nearly eradicated them entirely. A few of them managed to escape, however, for the Irekei had one last treacherous stroke in store, a deed so vile that it shook the World.
As the tide of War turned against the Irekei, the greatest Magi of the Devil Men reached out to the Dragon for aid. One powerful Wizard received a response from the sleeping terror, and he was guided by his dream visions far from the Burning Lands to the Chaos Gate, the most ancient and mysterious of the Runegates. Using the incantations the Dragon had whispered to him, the Irekei activated the Gate. The Gate opened a portal to the very heart of the Chaos that seethes beyond the Void, the realm of the dreaded Dark Lords. The Dark Lords, ever thirsty for blood and souls, also remembered the defeat the All-Father had dealt them in the Age Before, and they were anxious to take their vengeance on His children and creations. Vast hordes of Chaos Creatures and Demon Spawn flooded through the Chaos Gate, and the Dark Lords themselves came into the World. The War of Flames was quickly forgotten, for the War of the Scourge had begun.
The Scourge of Chaos and the Grand Alliance
The hordes of Chaos, whose vile soldiers outnumbered the stars, attacked all the Children of the World, and every race trembled at their onslaught. Entire kingdoms of Men vanished, consumed by the black tide, and entire regions were reduced to wastelands, corrupted by the taint of Chaos. Hordes of Demons swarmed through the greatest Elvish cities, and ravaged the Vast Plains of the Centaurs. In the frozen North, even the Giants and Northmen were sorely pressed. For decades each race stood alone against the twisted enemy, and countless were slain. The Deathless Empire teetered on the brink of collapse as defeat followed defeat, and the Sons of Men began to lose hope. Even the Titans could not stem the tide, and several of them died horribly at the hands of the Dark Lords.
All the Children of the World appealed to the Gods for aid, but got little help. The All-Father had gone, journeying into the Darkness Outside to learn the true nature of Death. The calls of the faithful could not reach Him, and some wondered if the All-Father was lost forever. Kenaryn, too, had chased Grallokur the Devourer into lands unknown, and Thurin had not been seen since the Taming. Khalikryst reveled in the destruction the Dark Lords unleashed, and Saedron raved in her madness, uttering endless prophecies of doom and death. Braialla granted healing and protection to the Druids who revered her, but even her powers began to wane as more and more of the World was twisted by the Chaos taint. Destruction seemed imminent.
The Centaurs were the first to try and turn the tide. Driven by their honor and piety, they sent swift emissaries to all the Children of the World, declaring that all the children of the All-Father or of His will must stand together, or all would surely perish. Elves, Men, Centaurs, and even the Giants heeded their call. For years the lords of many peoples argued the issue in countless gatherings and councils, for every race had a long list of grievances and wrongs that drove them to hate one or more of the other races. The road was long, but finally the Centaurs were able to make their vision a reality. The Grand Alliance was formed, and for the first time all the divided peoples of the World stood united in one grand purpose. All the peoples, that is, save one. Though many emissaries journeyed to the hidden halls of the Dwarves, the sons of Thurin refused to rouse their strength, wanting nothing to do with the troubles of the Roofless World. The wounds born of the War of Stones still ran too deep, and finally the Dwarves sealed their realms behind hidden doors, and rode out the War in seclusion, hidden in the deeps. They would not return to the surface again until after the Turning.
The Tide Turns
Once their strengths were bound together and coordinated, the Children of the World at last were able to halt the Dark Lords' advance. For each victory hard won, however, Chaos sent a new legion of Hellspawn through the Chaos Gate, and the strength of the Dark Lords seemed limitless. The Grand Alliance barely held its own against the implacable enemy, and some feared that unity had come too late, and that defeat was still inevitable. Just as hopes began to wane, however, wondrous happenings revealed that the tide was turning. Beregund Bladeseeker, last of the Gorthini Hillmen, undertook an epic quest for Shadowbane, unknown in the World since the Taming. Aided by an Elvish queen, the Human hero finally crept into the halls of the Dwarves, stole Shadowbane from their armory, and returned. At the battle of Vodiranon, Beregund avenged the slaughter of his father and his people when he killed Veshteroth, the first Dark Lord to fall in the War of the Scourge.
Shadowbane alone might have turned the tide of the War of the Scourge, but all too quickly it was lost again. Ithriana, the Elvish queen who had sent Beregund on his quest, betrayed him and took Shadowbane for herself. Her vile deed was nearly the death of the Grand Alliance, but the Dark Lords struck quickly, fearing the Sword of Destiny. Ithriana, her generals, and her fortress were utterly destroyed, and the spells of the Dark Lords cast them out of the World and into the Lands of the Dead. Shadowbane went with them. Though strained, the Grand Alliance endured, even though all hope seemed lost. The Children of the World did not despair long, however, for finally their salvation arrived.
As the War of the Scourge entered its twentieth year, the Gods finally returned to save the World. The All-Father returned from the Dark, with Ardan at His side. The Titan had somehow been reborn, and was now an emissary of Death itself, and terrible in battle. The All-Father called His hosts of Archons, who descended from Heaven to join the fray. Finally, He summoned His Champions, and they came to His call. Kenaryn left the Long Hunt, Thurin emerged from seclusion, and even Malog the Warrior roused himself, his ruined face hidden by a wondrous mask. With the Gods and Archons to strengthen them, the armies of the World could at last prevail. Battle by battle, league by league, the armies of Chaos were pushed back, and the corrupted lands at last began to heal. The final victory was still decades of hard fighting way, but the balance had shifted.
The End of the War and the End of the Age
Finally, the All-Father and the armies of the World drove the hosts of Chaos back through the Chaos Gate. Not content with this victory, Malog the Warrior urged a bold invasion of the Heart of Chaos itself, to take the fight to the enemy and ravage their homes as the World had been ravaged. The All-Father agreed, and led a great force of volunteers through the Gate and into the domains of Chaos. The All-Father's attack was bold and valorous, but nearly proved his undoing. For Malog's heart had turned against the All-Father, and he had made secret pacts with Chaos. The Warrior, who had always resented and envied his master's power, sought to lure the All-Father into a trap set by the Dark Lords. The great ambush miscarried, however, and the All-Father realized that treachery was afoot moments before the trap could be sprung. The All-Father quickly led his armies back out through the Gate, and escaped back to Aerynth despite heavy losses. Malog and the army under his command were trapped when the gate was shut, left to die in the seething, festering pit of Chaos.
When at last the fight was done, the All-Father told the Children of the World that His long quest had at last been fulfilled. He had finished His mighty fortress on the Silver Moon, and wrought the gates of Heaven and Hell so that the souls of the dead could at last find release, and plague the living no longer. Ardan, the first Titan, had been pulled out of the maw of Darkness and would from that time forward serve as the Shepherd of the Dead, guiding them to their final destination. As for His children, the All-Father again chastised the Elves, blaming their folly for the creation of the Irekei, who in turn had brought this great calamity upon the World.
Ardan began his duties by leading the multitudes of honored dead slain by the War of the Scourge to a place of honor in Heaven. The All-Father withdrew to his great fortress to heal the grievous wounds inflicted upon Him in the final assault. With Him went four of the Titans, who had tired of the strife and horror of the World. The Elves retreated deep into their former lands, mourning all that hey had lost, and the Centaurs rode back to the Vast Plains. The Sons of Men rejoiced and sang praises to the All-Father, for at last the time had come for Humanity to claim its rightful destiny. The Age of Days had ended, and the Age of Kings had begun.
The Age of Kings
The Age of Kings was the Age of Men, when the five great nations of Men spread across the face of Aerynth and forged new nations, trying to rebuild the glory of Ardan. Once the scourge of Chaos was defeated, most believed the Grand Alliance would endure and the World would enter an age of peace and harmony. And though the Age had promising beginnings, the Age of Kings was the shortest of all the Ages of the World, and in time ancient rivalries flared back to life, igniting new wars and conflicts and finally bringing the Turning, when the World itself was sundered.
The Rise of Ethyria and the Times of Peace
Once the Age of Days had ended, the members of the Grand Alliance pledged to stay allies through all the years yet to come, and arranged for a strong force to stand in eternal watch over the Chaos Gate. After setting the borders of their nations in one final treaty, each of the allies went their own way: the Giants back to their mountain homes, the Centaurs to the Vast Plains, the Elves to their hearts of their ancient forest, and the Sons of Men to the old lands of Ethyria. Ethyria had suffered much during the War of the Scourge, and what little remained of the Land of Heroes was almost unrecognizable. The greatest nation of the Sons of Men established the Kingdom of Ethyria and crowned Ivard Kandorian, a general who had gained great fame during the invasion of Chaos, their new king.
Peace prevailed in the early years of the new age, and limited trade sprang up between the Deathless Empire and the land of Ethyria. The Elves withdrew to the heart of their lands, and looked always inward, mourning the calamities of the past. Trade between Ethyria and the Cohorts of the Centaurs flourished, and the ancient bonds of peace and friendship between the two races remained strong. The Giants, however, no longer wanted anything to do with their former allies, and broke off all contact with them. Scholars remember this era as the Times of Peace, which would last for nearly a thousand years. Although there was peace between the members of the Grand Alliance, divisions among the Sons of Men caused the final collapse of Ethyria.
The Amazon Exodus
The Times of Peace were not without their some strife. As the allies of the Grand Alliance parted company, there was another parting in store. A young but mighty warrior named Phaedra, the daughter of an Ethyrian lord, denounced King Ivard, and indeed all Kings. Guided by visions and messages from Saedron, who she claimed had been grievously wronged by the All-Father, Phaedra denounced the rule of males, and claimed that men were responsible for all the troubles of the World. King Ivard tried to silence the young Warrior, but she escaped from Ethyria and led a band of woman Warriors and magi into the wilderness to find a new home of their own. Along the way, Phaedra's message spread even to the lands of the Elves. Disenchanted Elvish and Aelfborn women joined Phaedra's sisterhood, and they journeyed to the steaming Jungles of the uttermost South, where they founded the hidden empire of the Amazons.
The Amazons lived for centuries in the Hidden Valley of Delgana, where they came to be advised and finally led by the Council of Furies, a mysterious and ancient order of weather witches. Males had no status in Amazon society, and were used as menial laborers and for breeding. In the final years of the Age of Kings, dire prophecies from the Furies led the Amazons to emerge from their hidden kingdom and once again invade the realms of Men. The Turning trapped the invading Amazons in alien lands, for the way back to Delgana was lost.
The Fall of Ethyria, the Human Diaspora and the Ten Kingdoms
One great conflict marred the harmony and accord of the Times of Peace: the War of the Suitors which finally destroyed Ethyria. A woman appeared in Ethyria, who was so perfect of form and face that Bards and Chroniclers say that she outshone even Virenna the Fairest, the Titan mistress of love and beauty. Her name has been forgotten, but in songs and stories Bards call her the Silver Dove for her peaceful nature and the color of her eyes. The Silver Dove came to the court of King Irden the fourth, Lord of all Ethyria, and the king was so enchanted by her beauty that he became obsessed with her, and arranged for the Holy Church to annul his marriage to the queen. Irden doted on his new bride, while his spurned wife and his own sons plotted stern vengeance. Irden's lords and advisors vied with each other for the Dove's attentions, and finally drew the ire of the King.
For the love of a woman, it is said, Ethyria was torn asunder: the royal house turned upon itself in civil war, and many lords were quick to take advantage of the tumult to carve out realms of their own. Entire nations of Men who had chafed under the rule of the fair-skinned Ethyri left their troubled homeland far behind. By the time the war finally ceased, the Irydnu and Tariponti had founded new realms of Men far from Ethyria's borders, and ten kingdoms had been created where once mighty Ethyria had stood. Peace finally settled over the Ten Kingdoms, and they began to grow and expand. As the years went by, Men began to settle outside the borders of Ethyria as set by the treaty, and even encroached upon the lands of the Elves, but the Deathless Empire ignored its borders, for most of its folk still dwelt in the Hidden Court, and cared little for events in the World outside.
The Holy Church Reborn
The greatest single change that occurred during the Times of Peace happened within the Holy Church. During the Age of Days, there had been two great religions devoted to the All-Father's worship, the Elvish Church and the Human Church. The two entities were brought together during the War of the Scourge, when the efforts of Healers and Prelates were critical to the allies' survival, and remained in close contact once the hideous war finally ended. In time the two organizations grew together into one entity, but the Human clergy were appalled to discover the rampant corruption that ran through the heart of the Elvish Church. After centuries of appeals for reform, the efforts of the Human Prelates Eliander and Kellast finally brought about the Council of Wanford, where the High Canon of the Holy Church was revised, and the traditions of the two Churches were blended into a new whole. Corruption and cynicism waned, and Humans gained more and more influence within the Church.
The election of a Human Patriarch in the second century of the Age of Kings transformed the Holy Church into a Human instrument. Though many Elves still worshipped and served as clergy, their numbers and influence waned until the Elvish presence in the Church was little more than an afterthought. As the Church changed, its liturgy grew more rigid. The role and importance of other Gods, including Saedron, Kenaryn, and Braialla, was minimized, and worship of the Titans faded to almost nothing. Though some lands still clung to the "Old Ways," orthodoxy was rigidly enforced in the Ten Kingdoms. By the midpoint of the Age of Kings the Church had gone so far as to persecute the Druids and drive them into hiding, for rumors hinted that they had taken up worship of the Beast Lords, the foul animal gods who led the ancient Elves astray before the Taming. The growing intolerance of the Holy Church led to some tensions between Men and the Centaurs and Elves, but the Grand Alliance still endured. As the eight century of the Age of Kings began, the Children of the World found need of it again.
The Return of Morloch and the War of Ashes
Malog the Warrior, the God who had been maimed by the Dragon and who had finally betrayed the All-Father during the War of the Scourge, still lived, trapped in the seething heart of Chaos. His body, mind, and soul had been warped and twisted by the Dark Lords, and the Warrior transformed into Morloch, the Dark God. All the soldiers who had followed Malog into Chaos were also corrupted by the touch of Chaos, and became the Twisted Breeds: Grobolds, Orcs, Ogres, and Trolls. Somehow, Morloch's will reached back into the World and lured a mighty Wizard astray. Who this pawn of Chaos was remains unknown. The men of the Ten Kingdoms felt sure he was an Elf, while the Centaurs and Elves believed him to be Human. Whatever the case, the Wizard went in secret to the Chaos Gate, slew the guardians, and opened it for a second time. The hosts of Chaos did not return into the World, but Morloch did, and the vile ranks of the Twisted Breeds followed after him. Dark, strong, and hateful, Morloch set out to destroy all the All-Father's works.
The armies of the Grand Alliance were swift to muster, for swarms of Orcs and Grobolds ravaged the lands of every race. The armies of the Grand Alliance were more than a match for the Twisted Breeds, but Morloch's power was more than any mortal could match. Finally Kenaryn the Hunter and Torvald the Titan both entered the fray, and they managed to wound Morloch and drive him into hiding. Without their Dark God to lead them, the armies of the Twisted Breeds scattered, and they remain a thorn in the side of civilized peoples to this day. In the aftermath of the war the allies again affirmed their covenant with each other before departing. Alas, the Alliance would only endure another century.
The Coming of the War of Tears: Konrad's Boast
The rulers of the Elves, Centaurs, Giants, and men gathered again early in the tenth century of the Age of Kings to celebrate the millennial anniversary of the Grand Alliance against Chaos. The festivities were held in the Human realm of Alvaetia, largest and most prosperous of the Ten Kingdoms. An entire week of feasting, art, competition, and celebrations were arranged, and the entire city of Mellisar was used to house the great delegations. No expense was spared, and the revels and events of the celebrations were some of the grandest in the history of the World. Tragically, this great event held in honor of peace and unity would ultimately spark a terrible war.
On the fourth night of the celebration, King Konrad of Alvaetia gave a great toast before the evening feast. The King began humbly and eloquently, but by the time he had finished his speech the entire Elvish delegation had lowered their glasses. Accounts differ as to what the King of Alvaetia actually said, but his boasting toast offended the Elfking to the core, and the entire Elvish delegation left Alvaetia immediately, even though the celebrations were only half finished. The tension born of Konrad's remarks blossomed into trade embargoes, and finally the King Valdimanthor of the Elves sent troops to his borders, borders that had not been enforced or patrolled in hundreds of years. Men from the kingdoms of Ghand and Escalandor had gradually encroached into the Elvish woods, but now their presence was met with sharp reprisals. Soon the Hidden Court of Valdimanthor was in open warfare with the kingdom of Escalandor, and the War of Tears had begun.
Centuries of enmity and suspicion had finally destroyed the Grand Alliance, and ancient grudges were avenged tenfold in the War of Tears, the final conflict between Elves and Men. The War of Tears lasted for more than a century, but most of the actual fighting happened in two distinct phases, at the beginning and at the end. Initially, the Elvish armies launched yearly raids, striking one Kingdom after another. While the Sons of Men might have been able to defeat Valdimanthor's mighty hosts if the Ten Kingdoms could have stood together, too often petty rivalries among the Human Kings hampered or ruined their efforts, for many Lords were content to let their rivals bear the brunt of the fighting or even let them fall, hoping to gain lands and advantage from the chaos. After decades of bloodshed, the Elvish hosts cut a swath all the way to the heart of Alvaetia, where King Meynard, great grandson of Konrad, paid for his ancestor's insult with his life. Their pride avenged, the Elves withdrew back into their lands, but held large swaths of Escalandor and Ghand as an armed border against future Human aggressions. The first phase of the War of Tears ended, but there was no peace: for the Men of the Ten Kingdoms turned upon each other.
In mighty Alvaetia, King Meynard's two sons each scrambled for the crown, and began the War of Brothers, a bitter civil war that soon ensnared all the other kingdoms in webs of intrigue and alliance, drawing them into the war whether they wished it or not. It was a time of chaos and tumult in the lands that had been proud Ethyria. Pauses of a year or two were common, for each side had worn its strength to their limits. These respites were all too brief, however, and soon some atrocity or slaughter would spark the conflict again. Into these times was born Cambruin, the Warrior destined to become a King, the King destined to unite the Sons of Men, whose destiny was so brutally betrayed.
The Rise of Cambruin and the Foundation of the High Kingdom
Cambruin first gained fame and glory when the armies of the kingdom of Brethild invaded Caledorn, the land of Cambruin's birth. After a devastating defeat decimated the Caledornian ranks, an untried Knight only sixteen summers old took command of the scattered remnants of the army, and managed to rally them through sheer force of will. Cambruin launched a series of brilliant and brutal raids on the invaders, and even though his army was outnumbered more than ten to one, he quickly drove the invaders out of Caledorn. Cambruin won fame throughout the Ten Kingdoms for his valor and cunning, but this first victory came to mean far more. Essengal, the king of Caledorn, received a divine vision that Cambruin had been chosen to be the All-Father's holy champion on Aerynth, and that it was his destiny to unite all the Sons of Men ands recreate the Blessed Realm of Ardan. Essengal abdicated the throne of Caledorn, and named Cambruin his successor. In a single season, the bold boy had become a King.
There were many who questioned or dismissed Cambruin's coronation, until an ancient Loremaster revealed that the blood of the Kandorian dynasty of lost Ethyria flowed in Cambruin's veins, and the young Knight was the last scion of a line of kings. Wondrous tales of his glory and virtue spread like wildfire throughout the realms of Men. Knights and heroes from throughout the Ten Kingdoms flocked to Cambruin's banner, and the young king of Caledorn took the Golden Lion, ancient emblem of Ethyria, as his coat of arms. The time had come, the young king proclaimed, for the Ten Kingdoms to become once again. Cambruin urged his fellow monarchs to bend the knee to him, and join the new High Kingdom that he would build. Some realms were quick to comply, for they had been ravaged by the Elves and the War of Brothers and were anxious for peace. Other Kings stood fast in their pride, however, and refused to heed the upstart king of Caledorn. Soon, Cambruin found himself beset by the combined might of six kingdoms. The War of Brothers was quickly set aside, and the War of Crowns began.
For five long years Cambruin fought against his rival Kings, and all the while his fame grew unchecked. Tales and songs claimed that the young king was invincible, and a master of strategy and tactics. Far from being a simple warlord, however, Cambruin was also pious, and devoted to the good of the people. From this came Cambruin's Code, a new system of laws and customs based upon Justice and virtue. Even Cambruin's enemies were quick to join his cause, for the young king was gracious and merciful to his defeated foes. Hero after hero joined the ranks of Cambruin's Champions, including a young Knight named Caeric Blackhammer who seemed, if anything, even more pious and invincible than the king he served. Cambruin met and wedded the princess Bronwyn of Melavaunt while on campaign, laying the groundwork for a future dynasty.
Finally, Cambruin and his champions destroyed the last resistance to his rule at the Battle of Saint Wend's Hill. Cambruin was crowned and ordained the High King of a new, united realm. The old fire of Ethyria burned brightly again, but Cambruin would only reign ten years before his realm was sorely tested by the wrath of the Elves.
The War of Tears Resumes, and Humanity Prevails
After a "golden age" of harmony that lasted a decade, Cambruin found himself in conflict with the Hidden Court of the Deathless Empire once again. The High King chafed at the notion that large portions of Escalandor and Ghand were held and occupied by the Elves. These lands were for the dominion of Men, and had been guaranteed to the kingdom of Ethyria by treaty at the beginning of the age. Cambruin demanded that the Elfking Valdimanthor return the captured lands, but the Elf responded with scorn, saying that the Deathless Empire had made its treaty with Ethyria, and Ethyria was no more. Furthermore, the Sons of Men had proven themselves to be completely untrustworthy, and the Deathless Empire needed the captured territories to serve as a buffer against the wanton war and savagery that plagued the petty kingdoms of Men. Galled by Valdimanthor's haughty boast, many at Cambruin's court howled for vengeance. Too many heroes had lost brothers or fathers to the Elvish Host, and a peaceful settlement was impossible. Cambruin invaded the occupied marches of Ghand and Escalandor, quickly seizing the final pieces of his High Kingdom.
The High King had walked right into the Elfking's trap. For twenty years, the Deathless Empire had been continually gathering its strength and marshalling its armies, waiting for the moment to deliver the final stroke. Hordes of savage Minotaurs, bound by sorcery to the Elfking's will, surged into the High Kingdom at the head of the Elvish Hosts. Covens of Elvish Wizards and Magi wove spells of ruin and confusion, twisting the weather and even the land itself to their advantage. For the first time Cambruin tasted defeat, and indeed was lucky to escape at all from the Slaughter of Ghand. The Elvish onslaught, led by Valdimanthor himself, spent the next five years cutting a broad swath through the very heart of the High Kingdom, and none of Cambruin's efforts could turn the tide. Hope began to fade, and soon it seemed that the High Kingdom was doomed to fail.
At the grim Midwinter feast, a vision of Shadowbane, the Sword of Destiny, appeared to Cambruin's assembled court, and nine of the High King's greatest Knights undertook the Quest for the Sword. For two years the Knights searches, while Cambruin fought to keep the Elvish Host at bay. Nine Knights had taken up the mighty quest, but only one was destined to succeed: Caeric Blackhammer, who finally left the confines of Aerynth and found himself trapped in the Lands of the Dead. There on of the All-Father's Archons came to Caeric in his hour of need and blessed him, transforming the humble Knight into the First Paladin. Caeric found Shadowbane at last, and slew the mighty Lich Queen Ithriana, scattering her black host. Caeric finally emerged from the Lands of the Dead and raced back to the High King's aid, arriving just in time for the Battle of Rennelind Field, where Cambruin's final defeat seemed certain. With Shadowbane in his hand, Cambruin was invincible. He slew King Valdimanthor in single combat at Rennelind, and with the Elfking's death the spells that ensured the loyalty of the Minotaurs were broken, and the savage beastmen turned upon their masters. Valdimanthor's Host was broken, and the tide of the War of Tears had turned forever.
Disregarding the advice of some of his Champions and even the Patriarch of the Holy Church, Cambruin was not content to drive the Elvish enemy from the High Kingdom: he resolved to repay the Elves for millennia of pain, war, and suffering. As long as the Deathless Empire endured, Cambruin decreed, Humanity would never know peace or safety. And so the final phase of the War of Tears began, when Cambruin and his Champions invaded the forests of the Elves. The Elves were cunning and clever, hiding in the woodlands or masking their cities with spells, but Cambruin would not be deterred, and scoured the Elvish lands for nearly twenty years, destroying the Elvish realm city by city, league by league.
As the war dragged on, a new enemy, strife, crept into Cambruin's court. The religious purity of Caeric the Paladin offended many Knights, who could not hope to follow his example. Many feared that the more religious Knights would receive the better portions of the High King's favor, while his first allies would be forgotten. A plot by King Essengal's daughter to destroy the honor and reputation of Queen Bronwyn nearly brought Cambruin's court to ruin, and as the High King campaigned in the heart of the Elf lands, other enemies took advantage of his absence to raid the High Kingdom with impunity. Troublesome as all of these events were, the virtue of the High King and his Champions won through. Cambruin's court emerged from the storm intact. The roots of treachery ran deep however, and finally bore bitter fruit on the eve of Cambruin's final victory.
The Day of Woe and the Turning
Kierhaven, the last stronghold of the Elves, fell to Cambruin's army in the dead of winter, after months of hard-fought siege. The dark events that followed Cambruin's final triumph have never been discovered, for they have been lost in a web of legends, rumors, suppositions, and conflicting reports. All that is known is that one of Cambruin's own Champions was lured into black treachery by the Elves, and arranged for his sovereign's death. In the woods beyond Kierhaven this Traitor (whose identity will likely never be known, though rumors name at least four different Knights) stabbed Cambruin from behind with Shadowbane, pinning the dying king to the trunk of a mighty oak. As the tree drank the High King's blood, the ground shook and the World was changed forever.
For the High King died upon no ordinary tree: the mighty oak was none other than the First Tree, the World Tree that the All-Father had awakened at the dawning of the World. The mighty tree turned to stone, and its roots coiled and writhed like snakes through the depths of the World. Aerynth shattered, spiraling into isolated fragments that drifted apart. Seas drained into nothing, whole lands drowned beneath new oceans, and even the face of the Sun darkened. Braialla screamed in agony, and the echoes of her scream still linger for those sensitive enough to hear. The gates of Heaven and Hell slammed shut, and the All-Father's voice fell silent. The Turning had come, and none of the World's Children came through the cataclysm unscathed. A new Age, the Age of Strife, had begun.
The Age of Strife
Though the first century of this new Dark Age has not yet ended, the times since the Turning have seen more drastic changes than any other time in the history of the World. This has been an age without any masters, when the voices of the Gods have been silenced while the voices of the faithful shout louder than ever. Conflicts between great empires have ended, but only because the great empires were broken when the World was broken. New factions and alliances have arisen, each fighting with its neighbors over religious differences, ancient racial grudges, or precious resources. New creatures roam the Sundered Lands, and for the first time the folk of Aerynth have met the Children of another world. The greatest change of all, however, is the end of Death, or at least death as it had been known.
The history of the Age of Strife is, more often than not, a confusing tangle of events on different, scattered World fragments. An exhaustive account of the events since the Turning is sadly impossible, but a survey of the sundered World and of the major changes the Turning wrought is critical to understanding the World of Aerynth, as it exists today and will exist in the future.
The Sundered World
The most important change to Aerynth is also the most obvious: in the aftermath of the Turning, Aerynth is technically no more. As the High King breathed his last, the once continuous World shattered into many pieces, some large some small, and these great fragments drifted apart, isolating them from each other. In some places, great realms were dismembered, with neighboring provinces (or even halves of a single province) now separated by great gulfs of Void. In some places warring kingdoms were separated forever, while in others ancient enemies found themselves crammed together on a narrow island of stone that was all that remained of Aerynth. Travel and communication between fragments was, at first, impossible: few knew the cause or even the nature of the Turning, and many fragments thought that they were the only survivors of the end of the World.
The dwellers on many fragments had their lives changed forever by the Turning: in many places great cities stood shorn of the vast farmlands needed to feed them, and trade could no longer be counted on to supply scarce necessities. Famine and plague ravaged the fragments of Aerynth, and bitter wars quickly broke out for the control of precious resources, keeping ancient rivalries alive or even pitting folk against their own kin. Some turned to raiding, pillaging their neighbors to survive, while in other places communities transformed into fortresses, fending off the evils of the World with stout gates and thick walls. In some lands, ancient hatreds were forgotten in the name of survival, while others degenerated into savagery and ignorance. The sundering of the World spawned a host of ills and troubles for the survivors of the Day of Woe, but the troubles of isolation paled beside the spiritual aspects of the Turning.
Life, Death, and Undeath
Magi and Theologians are still debating the precise cause of the Turning, and the implications of some of its effects. Legend records that Gerriant the Old, first among Cambruin's Champions, was the last to die upon the Day of Woe: since the Turning, the Spirits of the dead are no longer drawn away from the World and into Heaven or Hell. They linger, chained to the fragments of the sundered World, and at first they quickly degenerated into hateful things, baleful specters seething with hatred for all that lives. Just as in the early years of the Age of Days, the corpses of the slain arose as foul Undead, and soon the shambling hordes of the Unholy Legion ravaged every fragment, wreaking havoc upon the ranks of the living. Ancient lore kept safe by the Holy Church led to the revival of the Undead Hunters, but on many fragments the old secrets had been forgotten, and nothing could stem the dark tide. Entire regions were lost to the Shadow, and have since become lands of nightmare. All of the World's Children would doubtless have fallen to the unholy tide if a solution had not quickly been found.
The ancient and mysterious Druids quickly learned to call across the Void to their brethren on different fragments, and sought a means of bringing life and death back into balance. Finally they devised the Trees of Life, stone trees grown from acorns harvested from the World Tree in ages past. Linked by powerful magic to the petrified World Tree, Trees of Life serve as anchors to the Spirits of the slain, drawing them back to the trees and fashioning new bodies of flesh and bone to house them. Within a few years, Trees of Life had sprouted in every major city and community, and through them the Children of the World had achieved a sort of immortality. Though true Death is no more, most folk are still afraid of dying, for the end of death's permanence did not strip it of its pain, and the journey through the Shadow back into life leaves the victim sorely weakened. It must be remembered that children are still being born in the wake of the Turning, implying that new souls can still arise even though the souls of the dead are no longer lost. The Wise are still baffled by these developments.
The New Races
After the first Trees of Life were planted, children began to be born to the Sons of Men who wereâ€¦ different. Pale, cold, and hairless, these strange children came to be known as Shades, and seem to have some kind of strange affinity with Death. Not even the greatest Magi are sure why one infant is born a Shade while another is not, but one thing is certain: despite purges and inquisitions, the number of Shades is steadily increasing. Many believe that they are somehow linked to the Trees of Life and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The Shades themselves know nothing of their origins, and are usually the targets of scorn and persecution. Their unique aptitude for stealth and thievery has earned them a place in the sundered World, however, and even those who revile Shades are often forced to respect them.
The most dramatic change in the population of Aerynth came in the fifth decade after the Day of Woe. A group of strange, winged folk appeared through an ancient Runegate, and soon large numbers of the bird-headed invaders had appeared in almost every fragment of the World. The strangers call themselves Aracoix, and they quickly attacked every city and community they came across, engaging all the World's Children in a bitter war for conquest. Though formidable and fierce in battle, the Aracoix know little of magic, and the folk of Aerynth managed to defeat the invaders, driving them into the wilderness. Though the first Aracoix encountered were universally hostile, in the years since some have broken rank to befriend the Children of the sundered World. These Aracoix revealed the secrets of the Runegates, enabling Travelers to end the isolation of Aerynth's fragments. The roaming Aracoix also gave dark hints about their origins. It seems that the Bird Lords came to Aerynth from another world entirely, looking for a new home before something destroys the world of their birth. These tales have added two new worries to the minds of Scholars: first, that the war with the Aracoix was only the first offensive of a massive invasion, and second, that whatever is driving the Aracoix to our World may eventually come through the Runegates to trouble Aerynth as well. Neither possibility is particularly comforting. Though initially hated by all the Children of the World, rumor has it that the Aracoix have made secret overtures to groups of Elves, calling for an alliance. When they first attacked, the Aracoix's lack of magical aptitude was their only weakness. With Elvish Magi to compensate, the legions of the Aracoix could become invincible.
Finally, while the days since the Turning have brought two new races to Aerynth, they have also witnessed the return of an old one, not seen for ages. The Dwarves, long forgotten by most folk, have returned to the surface for the first time since the War of Stones ended. Some have come as refugees, for the sundering of the World wreaked unimaginable havoc with the deeps, ruining many Dwarvish strongholds and cities. There are other Dwarves, however, who walk the World as emissaries from Dwarfholds still intact, making subtle inquiries and working toward some secret purpose. Rumor has it that the Dwarves are desperate to gather information about the Turning, the Runegates, and the location and final fate of Shadowbane, the Sword of Destiny. Some have surmised that Thurin and his children are working in secret to somehow reforge Aerynth and mend the sundered pieces of the World. None can even begin to guess how such a task might be accomplished, however. The Dwarves themselves have said nothing.
The Rise of New Magic
In terms of knowledge and learning, the Turning was an unimaginable cataclysm. Countless Scholars and Loremasters were lost in the upheaval and the Dark Days that followed the Day of Woe, and on many fragments the uneducated turned on the Wise, believing that reckless use of wizardry had somehow shattered the World. Libraries were destroyed, Magi were burned by angry mobs, and the isolation of Aerynth's fragments made the transmission of lore or new information impossible. Despite all of these disastrous trends, however, the magical arts have actually flourished in the wake of the Turning, for even though many arcane secrets have been lost, many have endured, and baffling new magical arts have been discovered.
Many resolute Conclaves of Magi weathered the storm of the Turning by walling themselves inside their towers and colleges and defending their libraries at all costs. In time, when the initial frenzy of the Turning waned, most folk were eager to turn to Wizards for aid against marauding monsters and raiders from rival groups. Schools of Wizardry were quick to recover from the chaos of the Turning, and quick to capitalize on the new art of Traveling. Useful as it was, other new forms and permutations of magic have arisen. Where once Summoners could only call creatures known to nature, after the Turning they gave rise to strange new beasts by mixing the true names of different beasts. The exile of the Amazons from their hidden homeland brought Scholars in close contact with the mysterious Furies and their art of Stormcalling for the first time in millennia. But strangest of all are the Warlocks, who seem able to bend the thoughts of others and the World itself to the power of their will. The effect of these changes will ultimately have on the science of Magic and upon the World itself remain to be seen, but they will doubtless be profound indeed.
The Fate of the Gods and the Crisis of Faith
In the beginning, all of the Gods walked the face of Aerynth, and dwelt among their children. In the times since, their intervention has become more and more infrequent, until this current Age, when many suspect that the Gods may be no more. Since the Day of Woe the All-Father has been silent, and the priesthood can no longer work mighty miracles as they did of old. The sound of Kenaryn's horn has vanished from the wild, and none have seen Thurin the Shaper since the Age of Days. Saedron raves in madness, and refuses to leave the Silver Moon. The Sun has dimmed, and while the Irekei claim that Khalikryst walks upon the World again, none have seen her, and the Flame Goddess answers no call. Morloch has yet to stir from whatever hole he fled to at the end of the War of Ashes, and some wonder if the Warrior's ancient wounds have finally undone him. Braialla's fate is the worst of all. Dismembered by the sundering of the World, the Green Mother lives in a state of constant agony, and while the Druids still claim to feel Braialla's presence, her mind and will are broken, and the Goddess can no longer speak.
Many folk believe that all of the Gods are dead or dying, and that the Age of Strife is one last, final respite before the World is finally destroyed. The Warlocks claim that the time has come for the Children of the World to become New Gods, shaping the World to their liking and taking the reins of Time and Destiny. But faith endures, even in these times of confusion and despair. While the All-Father is certainly absent, the Archons now carry on his work, granting small boons to the faithful. Likewise, the spirit of Braialla, though diminished, is enough to sustain the Faith of many Druids and Priests. Many Priests have questioned their Faith, and the Holy Church of the All-Father, once a pillar of civilization, has nearly faltered since the Turning, paralyzed with doubts about the fate of the All-Father and the Church's role in the New Age. Other religions have weathered the storm more gracefully, and in some regions older faiths have been reborn. In some lands the Titans are being worshipped again, for the first time in centuries, and it is whispered that the Shades are building new cults to serve Ardan, the Pale God.
The most dramatic religious development in Aerynth since the Turning has doubtless been the Great Schism of the Holy Church and the rise of the Temple of the Cleansing Flame. Malorn the Just (Saint Malorn to his followers) was a humble Crusader at the beginning of the War of Tears, when he defied the orders of the patriarch and left the ranks of the Faithful to serve Cambruin as one of his Champions. After the Turning, Malorn proclaimed the tenets of a new faith. Malorn was at Kierhaven on the Day of Woe, and according to his account he slew Cambruin's assassin with his sword, and was then blessed by the All-Father Himself, and appointed the leader of a new crusade.
Malorn and his closest followers wrote the Book of Swords, detailing a new creed and vision for the Holy Church. Malorn's words were given weight by the fact that he and his followers could work miracles far more easily than the Prelates of the bewildered Church. Visions and prophecies delivered by the Archons spread Malorn's gospel among the scattered fragments of Aerynth, and once the Runegates were opened Malorn went to the Holy City of Dalgoth to proclaim his new faith to the Patriarch himself. The Bishops and Cardinals of the Church were impressed with Malorn's zeal, but dismayed by his message. Malorn preached the virtues of the Cleansing Flame, which burns away sin, sickness, and impurity. According to him, the Sons of Men are the only true Children of the All-Father, and every other race must be swept away before He will return to Aerynth and reward the faithful. This message of hate flew in the face of everything the Church had stood for, and the Holy Church finally declared Malorn a heretic by. Many Prelates were swayed by the power of Malorn's spells and arguments, however, and the Holy Church split into two entities. The Temple of the Cleansing Flame was born, and its Templars and Confessors have carried out their holy war with zeal ever since.
An Age of Strife
This new, dark Age has been a time of Chaos: ancient rivalries have flared anew, new superstitions have sparked inquisitions, invaders from another world have attacked all the World's children, hideous beasts stalk the wilds, and scarce resources have driven even allies into war. The days of Kings and Empires seem to have ended: now each fragment of Aerynth is a patchwork of warring factions, each fighting to survive. The World is in dire need of hope, of heroes to do great deeds, of a light to banish the growing darkness.
Will you take up the quest for power and glory?
This is your Age, your World â€“ the world of Shadowbane!