The Time Before Time
What can be said of what existed before existence? Legend, rumor, and wild speculation abound. Tales amongst the less learned dwarves speak of the Great Forging of the World, while their counterparts among the elves spin yarns about The Great World Tree. The Wise, however, speak of a story handed down by the dragons, the eldest of the gods’ children, which some claim was taught to their elders by Aurinko and Forstorelse in the infancy of Time itself. Before all else, there was The First. Whence came Evighet, none can say, for nothing was until He entered the void, and into the void brought the Essences of Life and Death within His being. Evighet looked upon the emptiness of the Void, and knew what wondrous potential lay in Existance, and so resolved to bring that potential to ripeness. Stretching forth His right hand, He created the first of the Prime Essences, Kivi, the Mountain Lord, the Essence of Order, while with His left, He brought forth Frihet the Windwalker, the Essence of Change. Stretching forth His hands again, Evighet brought forth Valtameri, the Lady of the Deep, the Essence of Magic, and Tuli, the Firedancer, the Essence of Inspiration. Unto these, the Allfather gave the task of the shaping of the world, Arol, That Which Is.
Seeing the world take form, Evighet turned His attention to the Void, Arol-Var, That Which Is Not. From the brilliance of His eyes, sprang the Great Lights, Aurinko and Forstorelse, long and sinuous serpentine coils, and at the beginning of time, twins in mind and body. Unto each was given a suit of brilliant mail; to Aurinko, Evighet entrusted Kulthos, made from plates of Celestial Platinum, and to Forstorelse Lamshal, wrought of scales of pure Mithril. Arrayed in their mail, the twin gods’ light shone down upon the world, and they were set to patrol the marches between Arol and Arol-Var, each overseeing a portion of the limits of Frihet’s realm. And when the world was formed, and the pillars of Kivi separated the Deeps of Valtameri from the Expanse of Frihet, and sheltered Tuli’s Fires within the bulwark of the very bones of Arol, then once more did Evighet stretch forth His hands, to bring forth the final pair of the eight Prime Essences: Kukka, the White Rose, the Essence of All The Grows From Arol, and Elain, the Wolflord, the Essence of All That Moves Across Arol. Unto these two, in council with the others, did Evighet bestow the task of bringing forth Life across the face of Arol. With Kivi’s advice did Kukka bring forth the lichens and mosses, mushrooms and fungi, that thrive in the hollows of Arol, or cling low unto the surface. On Frihet’s counsel, she raised great trees, reaching ever higher to embrace the skies. In Valtameri’s wisdom she found the seeds of kelp and reeds, algae and peat, while Tuli’s warmth brought forth the lushness of the jungle ferns and the tenacious strength of desert cacti. So, too, did Aurinko and Forstorelse give counsel as well, and in their dreams of light she found wheat and other grains, holly, and mistletoe. All these and more she wrought, and when her labors were done, Arol blossomed into fullness and life. Then did Elain take heed, and sought the insight of the others, and therein found all manner of inspiration. Bats and birds, he crafted, to ride upon Frihet’s winds, and all manner of fish to fly throughout the Deep. Worms and burrowers, badgers and voles, to grace Kivi’s halls, while the Firedancer’s lands, both lush and dry, played host to serpent and spider, lizards and birds, creatures of all manner and kind. For the Light of the day, he brought forth cheetah and lions, the great hunting cats of the plains, while to the night he gave wolves and weasels, foxes and owls, hunters of the night. But ever did the thought of Kukka and Elain turn back to one another, until the forests overflowed with life. All of those creatures touched by the others found refuge in the woodlands and grassy prairies, and so too did elk and stag, deer and rabbit, horse and mighty aurocks, and others beside, too numerous to count. And as Elain’s thought turned to Kukka, so too did Kukka’s to Elain, and thus came about the hunting plants, flytraps and assassin vines, shamblers and others, to ensure that not always one-sided would the struggle for survival be, and so too ensure life’s precious value. Thus did life begin, under the nurturing gaze of the six worldly Essences. Night and Day, however, stood alone, each in isolation as they held to their course about the edges of the world. And in isolation, the twin gods grew apart, though the rift was not immediately apparent. Pride grew in the hearts of each, and thoughts of creations of their own crept into their hearts. And so each, thinking their actions concealed and in secret, gave thought to the creations of root and paw that Kukka and Elain had created with the other gods, and began to think in like fashion, until each hearkened to the whispers of their inner voice, alone in the void, and spread the shadow of their designs across all of Arol: the Dragons. Like unto the beasts of Elain they were, but mightier and quick to learn, and each of the races of dragons were crafted with thought toward the other gods, that this new creation might find welcome. Six races each were thus created, Aurinko’s children, the stonedwelling gold, fiery and capricious brass, the silver wyrms of the upper airs, the waterloving bronze, and for Elain, the copper, born to the hunt. In like manner were the children of Forstorelse arrayed: For Valtameri, the black dwellers of the water, for Tuli the heat-loving blue. With Frihet’s wintry bite in mind did she make the white, and to embody Kivi’s strength, the great red wyrms. Thought too did she give to Kukka, and so created the greens, to know the forests as none among their brethren would. And so in one fell swoop did the forebears of dragonkind awaken within the world. Amazed by the metallic dragons, Forstorelse rushed to catch her brother, seeking to know how it was their thoughts had been so similar. But the Skylord’s pride was great, and the thought came to him that his sister’s children had been made in imitation of his own, and mockery. Angered by these thoughts, he met her approach with insult and scorn, both for her imitation of his creations, and for leaving her appointed task in order to seek him out, and continued away from the Eye of Night. Surprised, his twin pursued, demanding her brother explain himself, for the thought now came to her that he considered her the lesser god, and would destroy what she had made, lest her children compete with his own. In anger she approached Aurinko a second time, and seeing her wrath, he met it with his own, and struck a blow to nearly split his twin in two. Offguard and unprepared for battle, Forstorelse fell wounded and striken, in pain and shock enough to all but drive even a goddess mad. But though rage filled her, madness did not, and wounded as she was, the Huntress did not give chase. Cursing her brother, she forsook his form, and instead took that of her children, for whom she risked his wrath, and rose again into the sky, a lumbering behemoth with five heads, barded in darkened mail, stained black in places from the sun-god’s flame. And in that moment, she swore her vengeance, and dedicated the primacy of her thoughts, and those of her creations, the undoing of all the Skylord’s works, and those of his followers. From that day forth, her thoughts have remained of blood, and war, but still she has held to the purpose given her by Evighet, and lights the darkness of night. Thus did begin the wars of wyrm and wyrm, which have ever been subtly fought, and continue to this day.
The First Age
Following the rise of the great wyrms, countless years passed unmarked. After all, what concern are a few hundred days and nights to creatures who are, in all practical ways, immortal? And yet, time’s passage could not help but be marked by the dragons, who saw their strength increase, and their dominions grow. Inevitably, the oldest and strongest, the greatest of the wyrms came into conflict, both with one another and with lesser serpents. Invariably these conflicts eventually proved bloody, and territories changed and grew, shifted, and sometimes were divided up between groups of victors. As the dragons fought, on occasion they encountered strange creatures. Undeniably draconic, these newcomers were children of neither sun nor moon; creatures of darkness and terror. Alarmed and dismayed, they sought out the gods, who were in turn surprised as well, and began to search for the root of these strange creatures, dragons of Shadow and Nightmare. And thus it was that the gods became aware of another within their midst: Varjo, the essence of the Void itself. These new dragons, however, sought neither treasure, nor land, nor even dominance, secure in their own domains deep in the bowels of Arol. And in time, they were dismissed, ignored, and eventually forgotten by most, as a new tremor shook draconic society. The discontent began, it is said, with Korinthar the Red, the eldest and greatest of Forstorelse’s brood, though some believe his sister, Sslira the Black, first whispered the poisonous thoughts to him in his sleep, for thoughts of the future and forethought were never the Red’s way. However the thought came to him, however, it was the Red who first openly raised the question: Why? The dragons grew, and grew stronger, and fought, and mated, and had filled the world… to what end? What would they do when there was no more room? When the only way to expand was to continue destroying the others, the weak working together to tear down the strong, until in the end, if breeding outpaced battle, all wyrmlings would hatch into a world without adults, where the very essence of what it was to be a dragon would be lost? Or, if battles outpaced breeding, to fight and expand personal conquests until all the world was drawn to two sides of one conflict, and the dragons fight to the last? Was there nothing more for them, the greatest of the gods’ creation? The answer would shock even the most prideful of the dragons, for Korinthar had set his sights on nothing less than divinity itself. What else, he argued, could the gods intend? Clearly the dragons were their successors, created in the very image of Aurinko and Forstorelse, and the gods were merely waiting for the time when the dragons proved themselves strong enough for worlds of their own, creations of their own to dominate and oversee, even as Evighet oversaw Arol. Such was the power of the voice of Korinthar in that day, with the light of a new dream and vision kindled in his eyes, that many hearkened to him, and though many more called him mad, and listened not, none who heard the words of the Firstborn of Forstorelse were unmoved. Many have wondered, if such was the potency of the Red in his madness, what works of wonder and majesty might have been, if not for the kin-strife of the Twin Gods.
Counsel then, Korinthar took, with the mightiest of those whom he swayed: Skogen the Green, Jhoral the Blue, Sslira the Black, and Talvi the White, among his brethren, and Pharon the Golden and Lognare the Brass, of the children of Aurinko, and mighty among their kind, though neither belonged to the first Brood. Much was said in these counsels, though ever did Sslira and Korinthar guide the speech of the others in subtle ways, and Lognare spoke not, but merely watched, having thrown her lot in with the others out of boredom, and was much amused. Telling one another that boldness is rewarded by the gods, the Six gathered their followers, though not Lognare, for she still came only to watch and be entertained. They came together in the great hollow of Tharak’nor, which is Dragon’s Deep in the draconic tongue, a great, wide depression in the ground many thought to be the place where Forstorelse had fallen to earth under the blows of her brother. Working great magics then, the dragons took wing, and rose to assail the very heavens, and in the van were the followers of Korinthar and Sslira, with their siblings behind, but ever before the great host went Pharon and his train, for in his pride, the self-proclaimed ‘Son of the Sun’ would suffer none to precede him on his ascent to glory. And as the host rose, Lognare followed, laughing. Thus did Pharon first of all the children of the gods ascend into the realms of their creators at the hour of twilight, while Forstorelse and Aurinko both shone in the sky and drew nigh unto one another, and coming before the Twin Gods put forth the claims of the wyrms: that having come into their full power and majesty, the time was right for them to come too into their inheritance, and be granted divinity, and worlds of their own to mold. Yet proud were his words and in his vanity the mighty drake made demands of that which even Korinthar might have presented as pleas. Seeing the pride and majesty of Pharon, those dragons in his train, gold, bronze, and silver, clamored likewise, and great were the multitude of cries and demands that the gods yield up their due. But greater was the anger of the gods at the arrogance and presumption of their children. Had not the dragons been given all the world? Did they not have within them the seeds of magic? How could they who were the eldest of their kind yet know when they had reached the fullness of their power? Sternly would Aurinko have rebuked the golden wyrm, had not Forstorelse, lower and closer to Pharon and his followers, responded first, striking the golden wyrm down and whelming his head from his neck with a single swipe of her talons. Thus ended Pharon the Golden, the mightiest of that breed ever to walk the face of Arol, and with his fall did Forstorelse turn her wrath upon his followers, and the light of Lamshal shone red through the blood of that host. But the hosts of Pharon were soon bolstered by the followers of Korinthar and Sslira, that arrived to find battle joined. For seeing Aurinko holding himself apart from the fray, the leaders of the great host laughed, and named him craven, and rushed to give aid to Pharon’s followers that they might gain lordship over them as well, and claim their mother’s divinity for their own. The battle might well have gone poorly for Forstorelse then, had Aurinko been as the dragons thought. But though the Skylord’s temper had been held firm in check since his ill-fated blow against his sister, yet stalwart and fell he remained, and his seeming hesitance instead was merely a clarion call to the remainder of the Essences, ere he too descended in wrath upon those who dared seek to seize divinity by force. Yet even then, the Twin Gods were not assured of victory, for the fire of Korinthar in his rage was surpassingly potent, and those that fought beside him took heart, thinking he had achieved his godhood, so great was his might in that hour, and he drove between the Lights, and struck Aurinko from behind, and sprayed his blood across the heavens. Ever since, the scattered droplets have shone of their own Power, when the Skylord was not present to blot them out with their own brilliance, and have come to be known by the younger races as stars. But in that moment appeared Tuli, and Kivi, and great and terrible was the face of the mountain lord, that all quailed before his fury. And Tuli unleashed her own fires, greater than those of Korinthar, who was made in homage to her, and Sslira was withered, and fled, and Jhoral scarred, and even Korinthar was burned, so great was the intensity of her blaze. Then did Talvi also withdraw, being unable to withstand the heat of the goddess’s anger, and as Korinthar reeled, Skogen abased himself before the gods, crying pardon. But Frihet and Valtameri then arose, and wove about the rebels a great net, and Talvi was held fast, and Sslira caught, and the rage and madness of Korinthar and Jhoral contained. Skogen did not resist, but submitted to the imprisonment, and those of their followings who yet survived likewise were ensnared. But Lognare, who had not fought on either part, vanished before the net was closed, and it is known that Frihet withdrew her from the trap, to teach and protect her in his own ways. But of this, nothing yet was then known. Then came Evighet himself, and the captives quailed before him, save one only: Sslira the black, who smiled even as the All- Father drew near. And her smile remained as The First pronounced doom upon the rebels: Within the net of Mist they would remain, the Primordial Wyrms, tied to Arol and yet apart from it, and constrained from acting upon it. Dominion over new worlds they had sought, and so would they be set apart from the one they had forsaken. Many of the rebels fought to escape the Mists, but the net was woven too tightly, and too well. But Skogen still resisted not, and Sslira instead turned to slither deeper into the net. Then did Kivi place the great net of the Mists deep within Arol, and Valtameri and Tuli wrapped it about again with great magics of binding and warding, and so came to naught the rebellion of the wyrms. But it is said that even in that hour, in the distraction of the gods with their wayward progeny, did Varjo form the Abyss, the plane of malice without form. And there did her hatred and spite take on physical form, giving rise to the untold number and kinds of the Tanar’ri, the demons. But being not of Arol, they could not enter, save by the allowances of those already within. But the Mists were not Arol proper, and ere long servitors of the Nightshade entered there, to whisper fell secrets into the ears of those who would give them heed. And it is said that from these creatures of Varjo came Skadia, the daughter of Jhoral the Blue. Being a creature of Arol, she too was bound within the prison of the Primordial Wyrms, but born of the Mists she was not adverse to them, and long did she spend exploring her home and meditating upon its mysteries. But Forstorelse was aware of this blasphemy of creation, it being her part to govern the darker aspects of the soul as it was the darkness of night, and in this now did she see Varjo’s hand in much that had gone before, and resolved ever to wage undying war upon Varjo, implacable even as her vengeance upon Aurinko would it be, and yet more immediate and terrible. For Aurinko yet remained her brother, and though the grievances of eternity stand between them without hope of redress, yet they remain siblings, and there is that love between them still. But Varjo holds no claim of kinship with the Eye of Night, and clearly did Forstorelse see her hand at work in the pains that had befallen. And so was made the Bloodthrone, a realm of implacable hatred and cruelty, where Forstorelse raised up the Baatezu, that are the devils, to forge a mighty army. And thus has war between the regiments of Baator and the hordes of the Tanar’ri existed unceasingly to this day.
The Second Age
It has been told that in the beginning of time, Evighet went forth into the Void, and brought forth the Essences of Arol, and through them, created the world. Eight they were in number, and paired in aspect, and the names given to each were Aurinko and Forstorelse, the Lights of Heaven, Kivi and Valtameri, the firmament, Frihet and Tuli, the impulses, governing caprice and passion, and Kukka and Elain, the Lifesprings. These were the Makers of Evighet’s design, and the implements His will, yet another there was, Varjo, the essence of the Void, and if she indeed came of Evighet’s intent, then it is hidden from the others, and told not to those that dwell within the bounds of Arol. Thus did Arol become flawed, and stray from the balance the Essences had envisioned. And from that imbalance came the great tumults of the First Age, as dragon strove with dragon for power and dominion, even unto the deaths of many of the Children of the Lights. But greater strife was yet to be, as the mightiest of the dragons rose up against their sires, seeking to wrest divinity for themselves. Brief was the Rebellion of the Wyrms, and brutally was it put down by Forstorelse and the other Essences, and when all was done, those who survived were imprisoned forever, or so it was thought. And in the hour of the rebellion’s end, those wyrms who had not rebelled now perceived their mastery of Arol was at an end, for the gods surely would not countenance a second uprising, and so the wyrms withdrew, seeking solitude and isolation, and the greater part of Arol was left empty, save for the children of Kukka and Elain. Into this emptiness, the gods brought forth new creations, perceiving that some check was needed on the ambitions of the great drakes. To the forests, Tuli brought the Istadar, who would come to be called the elves. To them, she gave the gift of passion and wonder in creation, and set them free to wander whither they would, and find their own way in the twilight under the leaves. Kivi, the mountain lord, in the same time did create the race of dwarves, who are in the tongue of that people the Kathari, Those Who Are Of The Father, and place them within the very bones of the mountains, to teach them his Law, and shelter them from the predations of the wyrms, that they might nurture their strength. Frihet the Windwalker in that time crafted the Puutasadi, the gnomes of meadow and field, where the Sly One’s winds swept down to brush against the world. Carefree wanderers and tinkers, the gnomes quickly spread across the open places, forming small villages near the kathar delves or istadar settlements, and in this way did they learn of both the dwarves and the elves, and profit greatly from their friendship. Valtameri brought forth no children, unless it be some race within the deeps that is yet unknown, and instead, the goddess of the waters taught each race, through dreams and visions, happenstance and daydream, the rudiments of magic, to learn and develop each according to their nature. But Varjo was aware of the designs of the gods, and conspired to bring forth her own creations to make war upon them. And so she sought to unleash hordes of mighty terrors upon Arol, but her knowledge of creation, of drawing forth the shape of her secret thought and clothing it within flesh, was crude, and her labors produced only a shrunken, sallow form of life, cruel and miserable, desiring only to inflict pain and misery upon all others. Thus did the ghul’bim, which in the Common Tongue of the Third age became Goblins, first darken the shadows of night. But Varjo was unsatisfied, and stretched forth her power again, investing her second attempt with more of her malice, her cruelty, and her hate, and in her darkling wrath we born the first of the races of the giants, the Oghru, that men call Ogres. But Forstorelse was vigilant, and wary of Varjo’s treachery, and ere long the moon saw both ghul’bim and oghru as their malice spread through secret ways, thinking themselves hidden by the mantle of Night. Resolving to turn the malice of the Nightshade in upon itself, Forstorelse stole upon the ghul’bim and captured some, to learn more of them, ere the others fled. But the oghru were cannier, and less craven, and would fight to the death rather than let themselves be taken, and the goddess withdrew, lest the conflict warn Varjo that her minions had been discovered. For long years did the infestation spread in secret, while the three races of the gods learned of the world, and forged their places within the spheres of Arol. For children of the Kathari forsook their sunless lives, and learned the ways of the seasons and weather, and became the Nithar, the Hill Dwarves, and though long did they keep unto themselves, still trade and the rumor of the Nithar came to the Puutasadi, and there was friendship between the two peoples. And in that time was first felt by the races of the Second Age the power of Kauppias, and in the trade and love of wealth that came with such interactions his power grew.
In like manner did the children of Tuli grow apart from one another, as many began to seek their own paths, and their own dominions in the world. Those there were who sought to bring forth wonders of their own, to create even as the gods had created, to explore the spark of magic and power gifted unto all by Valtameri. And deep and wise was their learning, and mighty their works, and they came to be called the Children of Creativity, the Lumidar. And some there were that sought to follow the ways of the world around them, to live within the natural pulse of the world, and be as one with all of Arol. Quick and fell of hand, they became; hunters without peer, tireless trackers, and fell-handed defenders of their people. These were the Elaidar, the Children of the Wilderness. But there remained those who walked the middle road, seeking neither the Power of Creation, nor the primal unity with the children of Elain, but rather holding to the vision of Tuli’s guidance, and choosing to live within her ways, and they called themselves the Sildar, the Children of Faithfulness. But the three kindreds of the elves were not estranged, and in that time the differences as yet were but ones of choice and habit, practice and livelihood. And slowly grew the communities of the Istadar, but long were their lives. And in that time of the divergence of the children of the gods came the first sign of the ghul’bim, and their cruelty and spite were made all the more terrible by the bitterness they found at the beauty of the Istadar, and the cleverness and industry of the Puutasadi and Nithar, and there was ever war between the cities and the hordes of Varjo, though none but Forstorelse yet knew whence this evil came. Long and hard did the Istadar and Nithar war, but never as one, for the races were as yet estranged, and living in different climes had no word of one another, but the Puutasadi knew, and gave aid to both. But the Kathar remained untroubled, and secure in the fastness of their hidden might, the race of Dwarves long had peace, and thrived in the deep places of the world. But above, the wars against the ghul’bim would have gone poorly for the Istadar, but in the hour of their need came from behind the horde a great force of arms. Clear and cold were the trumpets of the Host of Forstorelse in that hour, and long and bright were their spears. And the new-come host strove in against the rear of the creatures of Varjo, and came even nigh under the walls of the great city of the Istadar, Vansiriel the Beautiful, and none could withstand them, and the creatures of Varjo were thrown into confusion and chaos, for it seemed their foes were of their own kind, and yet greater and more grim. For by her own Arts and malice did Forstorelse had reshaped the ghul’bin, twisting and mutilating the half-formed instruments of Varjo, until tall and straight they stood, strong of arm and merciless of mein, cruel, relentless, and disciplined. And they were christened by their mistress Hughbar-ghul’bim, which signifies ‘Strong Arms of the Ghul’bim’ in the dark tongue of the Bloodmoon’s servants, but which Men make Hobgoblin, and thus have they been known after the Breaking of the Mists. But even in the hour of her defeat, Varjo laughed, for the elves as well bethought the new and well-ordered host to be fresh foes come up against them, for the oghru of times were known to carve swathes through the numbers of the ghul’bim ranks in their madness and bloodlust. And therefore, as the Host of Forstorelse strove against the hordes of Varjo, did the Istadar throw wide the mithril gates of Vansiriel, and issue forth in sudden strength, whelming heavy-handed against all upon the field, and seized the mastery of that day. But Forstorelse did not forget that even as she delivered them, the children of Tuli attacked her own forces, and in so doing allowed the remnants of Varjo’s thralls to escape, to breed anew. But too few now were her warriors now to pursue them, and so she devised subtler plans: Whenever they could, her hughbar-ghul’bim would seek dominion over their lesser brethren, and turn them in thralldom to her service and her ends. But the children of Tuli they will ever hate, remembering them as betrayers and cowards, and they and their mistress have sworn to see the elves enslaved, and bound at last to the will of the Bloodmoon, and the war between those peoples has never fully ceased.
But of all this, the elves remained as yet unaware, and thinking the field won by the valour of their arms against foes beyond count, the Istadar gave further thought to the arts of war and the means of their defense. Thus did they draw tighter the watch around Vansiriel and lesser cities, and for long centuries had peace in the greater part of their realm, though the vigilance of their borders was often tested by their foes. However, such peace was not to last, for within the Istadar the seeds of corruption were planted, and the whispered words of Varjo’s lies spread from ear to ear in secret. And so it was that malcontents fomented war upon the Nithar, who made peace with their estranged cousins to fight for their survival. Thus before any were even aware of the conflict’s beginning, the Wars of Dwarves and Elves erupted in sudden bloodshed, and the elven people, thinking themselves wronged, meted out hurt for hurt, for nigh on half a thousand years, until both sides were wearied of battle. Then did Varjo’s corrupted followers strike, and led the armies of the dwarves through hidden ways behind the walls of fair Vansiriel. And even as elf slew dwarf and dwarf slew elf did the tainted ones work their accursed rites, and drew upon the power of the slaughter itself, and called, they thought, upon their mistress in her secret names. But it was not so, and in their worship of names thought lost and cleansed from Arol did they channel Power, and the mystic might of the lives spent in hate and madness about them. And in that hour, the Wars of the Children of Tuli and Kivi ceased, and the children of Forstorelse set aside their grievances and hate, for a time. For those dark rites which Varjo taught and faithless elves enacted worked un-being upon the strength of Arol, and upon the heart of the world itself. And with such weakening came a fate more terrible than any could imagine, and the world itself did shake, and seem to crack, as were great quakes across all lands, as Korinthar the Red wrenched free, and in his train came those others who had led their kinds into rebellion: Jhoral. Talvi. Skogen. Sslira. And more terrible now, than even before, were the Primordials, for theirs had been the names that Varjo taught unto her misguided elven servants. Nigh as gods they had become, and worse. For in their long imprisonment, Korinthar grew mad, but hateful, ever dreaming of the hour of his vengeance. Jhoral, too, went mad, but his was an unreasoning madness, a rage of orgiastic devastation with neither thought nor care. But more terrible to behold was Sslira, for as ages passed in the ageless net, she learned darker magics than those she had yet known, and sacrificing herself was reborn, yet dead remained, a skeletal creature of magic and malice, implacable in her hunger to consume the lives of others. Dracolich she was named, and Shadowqueen. But Skogen’s heart had turned to longing in the Mists, and breaking free he eschewed the war his brethren made, to return instead to that forest domain which he had loved in days long ago. Therein he found a multitude of creatures unfamiliar, ghul’bim and hughbar-ghul’bim, oghru and istadar, puutasadi and nithar. Curious, he watched unseen their panicked lives, for though he made no threat, they were yet aware of the release of Doom that was the coming of his brethren, and ere long their fears were made truth, as Sslira turned her sunken eyes toward Skogen’s realm. Great was the might of her arm in that attack, for fresh was she from the slaughter of the Great Delve of the Kathar, and to her power she added that of the lives she stole, and to her terror she added that of her creations: undead legions, the remains of those valiant nithar and kathar who opposed the Shadowqueen, now thirsting for blood and life even as did she. But mightier still was Skogen’s wrath, for even in the beginning he had been the greater, and he had hoarded his strength since their release, and not squandered it in senseless slaughter. And as the army of the undead bore down upon the scattered peoples within his wood, they did band together, and yet still would have been swiftly destroyed, but for the Green. For Skogen descended in Power upon the deathless legions, and with tooth and claw, spell and righteous wrath he laid that army low, scattering many to dust with each blow. And those behind his bulwark, thinking him perhaps Elain himself come to deliver them, did fall and worship him, even as their god. But even as they did, the forest shook again, for now came Sslira herself, and the battle between the Wyrms of Wild and Death is remembered in legend and song among all those races that saw, and in the end, Skogen had the mastery, and Sslira fled. But elsewhere the escaped Primordials went, devastation followed. Korinthar and Talvi sparred amidst the ruins of elven Vansiriel, fairest of the realms of that people, and forever after lost to memory, and the dragons delighted in the destruction they wrought, and grew stronger even as they slew, for the followers of Varjo yet hid safe within the caverns deep below, and continued their dark rites. But the Puutasadi in that land cried out to their lord Frihet for succor, and he did lift them up, and set them to live atop the slopes of Kivi, nearer his own realm, and in his divine touch made them well-suited for such clime. And from those faithful arose the Pilvisadi, the Delivered Ones, that the tongue of men makes Cloud Gnomes. But Tuli was aware of them, and cursed her wayward children, unleashing upon them her fire even as she once had upon Korinthar. And the tainted elves were burned, and darkened, and the darkness of their skins would forever reflect the darkness of their souls. No longer could they hide among the istadar, and so began that lineage the elves call the Children of Broken Faith, Sil-varidar in that tongue of old, but in later days made simply Varsidar. Nor were the other gods long idle as the escaped wyrms’ rampages continued: Frihet, it is said, released Lognare back into the world, and with her came Kunnia, the daughter of Aurinko and a great silver wyrm, and Mod, the Lord of Battle, son of Kivi and Tuli, for eager was he to test his might against that of Korinthar. But the true Powers, the Essences of Arol, came not, hunting instead the one they perceived as the architect of the Escape: Varjo. But to Varjo’s aid rose Hemlig, the Master of Secrets, and whence he came none can say of certainty, for such is his greatest secret. And with Hemlig’s aid did Varjo elude the other gods, and laughed, for in hunting her the greatest of her foes lost time in which they might have quickly felled Korinthar and his allies. Then Skadia, daughter of Jhoral, emerged at last from the Mists, a great draconic demoness of six arms and stormy mein. But Skadia had seen more deeply than the others, and new the true nature of their prison. Seeking out her sire, she sought to calm his madness and stay his wrath, but to no avail. And knowing thus what such ravages would work upon Arol, she hearkened to Kunnia and Lognare, and joined her cause to theirs, and fell upon her father even as he himself began his assault upon a colony of gnomes. Great was the upheaval of that contest, but in his madness and confusion, the ancient blue was no match for his daughter’s power, and he fell, alone among the great Primordial Wyrms to truly die in that war. But Skadia absorbed his power, in part due to her demonic blood, and in that moment attained true divinity. But it is said that even as her power grew, the Mists themselves arose and engulfed her, and she vanished from the face of Arol again, and has never since come forth. But despite the fall of Jhoral, and the conversions of Skogen and Skadia to the protection of Arol, still the tumult grew, and seeing the power of the Primordials, many folk of mortal race were cowed, and worshipped them, and their power grew, and all the world became their battlegrounds. Great swaths of terror and destruction Sslira wrought, and the undead rose up in her wake, while Talvi froze whole lands with the scourge of his breath, his spells, and his hate, and in his passage laid his taint upon a pocket of the Istadar, that would in later Age be after known as Morthidar, the Frost Elves. But Korinthar had long devised of other schemes, and let Mod hunt for him in vain. Then Korinthar gathered his strength about him, and forsaking the surface of Arol did come instead to the Plane of Fire, and there put forth his malice and his might, and sought to bring all the creatures of that plane within his thrall. For Korinthar had not forgotten the fires of Tuli, and knew that in her very strength lay her weakness: for being of Fire and passion, she was destroyer as well as creator, and if Fire itself became his domain, then that aspect would dominate the goddess, and she too must then come into his service. But Tuli was aware the moment his power first spread across her realm, and came indeed, and great were the upheavals of that battle, and all who witnessed it were destroyed. But though Korinthar at length was cast back down unto Arol, the wise have said that Tuli’s victory was dearly-bought, and only in abandoning the darker aspects of flame to his dominion, and separating herself from them, was she able to prevail, and shut to him the Plane of Fire. And while Tuli nursed her wounds, before Korinthar could master his new-won strength, the armies of Kunnia and Lognare attacked, with Mod and Skogen in the van. But the hosts of Sslira joined the thralls of Korinthar and Talvi, and battle was joined. For half a month did the armies vie, and in that battle fought on both sides members of all the races of Arol, and magics fell and terrible were unleashed. Some among the learned sages who have studied the lore of those days believe that in that conflict were birthed the bewildering variety of humanoid creatures, giants, and aberrations that have since come to be known upon Arol; gnolls, minotaurs, and other beastmen, trolls, ogre magi, and the races of Greater Giants, chimerae and gorgon. But in the end, the gods prevailed, and though Kunnia was nearly destroyed herself in bearing the brunt of Korinthar’s fury, the great Red spent himself in the attack, and was laid low by her talons. But great were the throes of that war, and all the lands were broken, and many mountains laid low, and seabeds thrust up, and rivers changed their course. And in the end, even as the final battle raged, the Mists arose again, enshrouding all the world and separating land from land and kin from kin, and many feared that they would ensnare both sides, trapping them forever within, locked in eternal conflict. But the might of the Primordials was grown too great to be so contained a second time, and so they were exiled from the face of Arol, and dispersed among the planes. Adrift they were set, but Talvi stretched forth his strength, and merged the fringes of the Planes of Air and Water, and in that realm of eternal cold now makes his lair, and plots for his return. Korinthar created not any lasting work of his own, who is destruction itself, but rather fled to the Abyss, and Sslira to the darkness of the Shadow, the domain of Hemlig. For the gods now perceived that Varjo and Hemlig could not be assailed directly, being true divinities and not usurpers as were their draconic minions. And so the dark gods were not assailed in might, but still does Forstorelse wage her endless war of vigilance across the darkness of the lower planes. And so ended the Second Age of the World, in battle even as it had begun, and all the world was changed, for the Mists abated not, and the lands were estranged from one another, for wherever the Mists crossed, there no safe passage was found, and those who entered within only rarely came forth again, bearing tales of fear and woe.
The Third Age
For long years after the ending of the Second Age, much of what passed upon Arol was lost unto darkness as the children of the gods strove to overcome their hardships. The Great Delve of the Fallen Star was lost, taken and twisted by Sslira the Shadowqueen into a place of dread and dark sorcery, and shunned even by those of dark and covetous heart. But not less than the loss of the dwarves was that of the elves, for Vansiriel the Beautiful was utterly destroyed, and the very bedrock of its foundations rent and torn asunder, melted to slag in the fires of Korinthar. And the world itself seemed changed, for each land seemed almost to be alone, swaddled in the Mists, through which none could pass, and wherein, it was said, even the new goddess Skadia was forever trapped. And so for long years was land estranged from land, and kindred from kindred.
But not all was laid waste, and when a thousand years had passed, the largest group of refugees from the Elven Empire of ancient times established a new realm in a great sheltered swath of the woodlands of their new home, and they called it Laurelin, that is the Wild Refuge. And there did they nurse their strength anew, Elaidar, Sildar, and Lumidar, each according to the ways of that people, for in the long years of the Second Age, the three kindreds of the Istadar had grown apart, and were no longer so close as they had been. The dwarves, too, were again divided, as the Kathar locked themselves away once more within the deeps, but the Nithar remained in the remnants of their own cities, and as they grew again in number began to trade with the Gnomes and the scattered elves again. But the Akthar, the survivors of doomed Duhricktharn, wandered long as exiles. And when fifteen centuries had passed since the ending of the Mistwar, as the battles of the end of the Second Age had come to be called, then did elven rangers from Laurelin discover a thing new and strange: A people like unto them, but heavier of build and rougher of face, in some ways like the Nithar. Fearing that this might be a new and unknown scourge of Varjo, the elves remained unseen, and kept a watch upon the roaming bands of these new creatures, and saw that they were true and fair of purpose, but brief, and fleeting, living only rarely even a century ere time laid low their works. And so, great conference was taken within Laurelin, and the elves sent emissaries to the nearest camp, and made peace with them, and called them Taldar, the Children of The Moment, and learned that they called themselves ‘Men’. And in that place, in a sheltered valley through which ran the river Tarathai, was established a trading post, and it was here the secrets of agriculture first passed into the hands of Men. But Men were not the only new creatures encountered in those years, and at first, the elves and Gnomes thought that many of the children of Men were wandering alone, and sought to herd them back unto their people. But quickly enough, they learned that though they stood shorter even than the Puutasadi, this was yet another new people. Skaltings, they called themselves, and many of their people learned the ways of Elain and Skogen, and befriended the great wolves of Elain, and these came to be known as Ulvskaltings. But as Men spread, and encountered the Skaltings, they too judged them at first as children, and though they learned the truth of it, ever after have the Skalting race been called ‘Halflings’ by Men, and their cousins ‘Wolfkin’. But even into the midst of these peaceful and relatively happy meetings came dark tidings, as rumors of marauders and savages from the northlands reached Laurelin. And soon the rumors proved all too true: A new threat was brewing in the north, strong and fell warriors of greenish skin and ravenous hungers were sighted in bands, similar to the nomadic bands of Men, or Elaidar, but more feral, like the rapacious gnolls or goblin tribes. Almost like small oghru they seemed, and perhaps in token of such did Men first call them ‘orcs’. But it was soon learned that they called themselves The Restless, and in the tongue of their people were the Mishan’Ka. For long years did the scourge of orc raiders and brigands seem remote, a distant trouble on the edges of the hinterlands. But in the century before the 3000th year of the Third Age, the troubles began to intensify, and now and again, a name was added to the tales: ‘Rothgar’. With terrifying quickness the scattered bands of orcs were brought together under his banner, and other savage races flocked to join the forming horde. Within three years, almost before the shocked elves and men were aware of Rothgar’s feats of leadership, the Horde began its relentless advance south, toward the city of Men that had grown up around the Tarathai River trading post, called Taldara. But in this, the single-minded focus of the horde proved its undoing. For as the monstrous army pressed onward, it scattered villages and settlements to the winds, like unto waves cresting across the bow of a great ship on the ocean. And the scattered peoples brought warning of the rampaging orcs, far in advance of the vanguard of the horde, and wider than that army’s immediate path. And those who learned of this great force were dismayed, the humans hearing the footsteps of Doom, while the elves remembered the ancient battles against the ghul’bim. Counsel then they took, and messengers dispatched to all those with whom they had relations. And so it was, that when the approaching horde finally reached the Tarathai valley, they found there a mighty host of men, elves, gnomes, dwarves, and halflings, gathered from surrounding villages, from the forest realm of Laurelin and nearby Meloria, and from Morgardoth, stronghold of the Nithar. But the fury and the lust for battle of the orcs and their allies would not be so easily deterred. Gathering their strength, the horde surged forth, and in that first press many promising warriors of the gods’ children were slain. But the defenses held, and the onslaught was blunted, though still the armies of Rothgar’s forces raged and threw themselves into the fray. Slowly, the defenders gave ground, as the savage fury and greater numbers of their foes forced the lines back, the bones of the fallen ground into the dust under the boots of Rothgar’s warriors. Doughty though the forces of Men and their allies were, they were nonetheless driven back to the walls of Taldara, and were hard-put to withdraw their remaining strength through the gates before the ring of their enemies closed about them. For three months as the old year waned, the armies of Rothgar laid siege to the city, waylaying caravans laden with supplies and cutting off the trade from the river. Feral and used to long hardship, the orcs and savage humanoids endured the hardships of hunger, winter and disease, even as their rangers hunted and foraged for enough provender to supplement those captured from the human settlements. Many were lost, and many others fell ill and weakened, but so too had many of the defenders succumbed to the same dangers of the siege, and still the besiegers remained a mighty host, many times the number of their beleaguered foes within the walls. And so it was that with the coming of spring, Rothgar made ready to renew his onslaught. But as the engines of war were brought to bear, word came of a company of Men, giving challenge upon the army’s flanks. Angered at the impertinence of what he deemed must be those who escaped the slaughter of the autumn bloodshed, the great general resolved to end the annoyance before word could lift the courage of the besieged. Setting a watch on the walls and gate, Rothgar left his strongest, minotaurs, and oghru, ettins and trolls to keep the greater strength of the City’s defenders pinned within and turned the rest of his force to hunt the upstarts down, moving back into the northern mouth of the valley. And so it was that his armies sundered, and light and fast though his hunters were, their human prey seemed always able to slip away, firing arrows from ambush and escaping swiftly before their pursuers could even catch a clear view of them. But slowly northward they drew the orcs and savage humanoids, and Rothgar became wary, fearing a trap. Gathering his forces again, save those maintaining the siege, he abandoned the immediate hunt, and surged north, retracing the steps of his horde’s advance of the year before. But wary as he was, he was unprepared for the bloodletting to come. To the west of the Great Wastes of the Ghul’bim March, and yet still far to the north of Taldara rises a broad plain, bounded by mountains to the south and east, hills and seacoast fens to the north, and the Mists to the west. And in that land dwelt then the Wandering Clans, the Kostayas of the Berezani Plain. Nomadic and proud, they arose as a fiercely independent people, exulting in feats of arms and the breeding of horses, upon which their people depended. To the plains had come word of the gathering storm, and even as the orcish hordes marched south, their passage went not unwatched. Knowing that such a force, if unchecked, would not be sated with the sack of one city, their headmen came together, and dispatched riders across the Plain to gather all of that people to the yearly wintering grounds at Berez, a sheltered vale in the southern mountains. Leaving a bare company of guards to keep safe the young and the meager holdings of each Kostaya, the able-bodied had gathered their strength, and with the first melting of the winter snows, had set out to track the horde, dispatching a handful of those skilled at stealth and speed ahead as scouts. Thus did Rothgar, Chieftain of the Mishan’ka and leader of the savage horde, behold upon the broad grasslands, the encampments of the Berezani, and judged that still his force was the greater. Arraying his battle-hardened forces, he sought to sweep these foes from the field, even as he had done all those within in the valley before them. But Rothgar’s forces, and their general both, hailed from the broken wastes, and though long hardships had they withstood upon their march, yet still had they advanced and fought afoot, and so now with a great hue and cry charged toward the camps of Men, in disarray and unwary as they thought. But the warriors of Bereza travel light, and of their ways it is said that a man owns but three things: his horse, his mail, and his sword; all else belongs to his wife. In this, they were well-served, for though the orcs had fought many battles, never yet had they faced the fury and onslaught of mounted warriors. And now they faced skilled riders, long-used to inter-clan squabbling and lighting raids, who had over generations mastered the arts of fighting from horseback, and of striking and withdrawing unanswered. Rothgar’s oghru could have faced such an assault, their long arms and massive frames well-suited for breaking an attacker’s charge. His trolls could have borne the brunt of the onslaught and rose up again to continue the fight. His minotaurs might have met strength with strength, goring the horses as they drew near. But those and others that might have turned the tide, he left to hold the siege-lines firm, and the terror of the wrath of the Berezani rippled through his forces, as deadly as the blades and arrows of the plainsmen as groups found themselves cut away from the main force, as a wolf pack cuts a single deer from the herd, and scattered or killed. No count was ever made, nor burial attempted, for the savage humanoids that fell in that hour, but of those that survived, many retreated back toward the besieged city, and their allies, but many more fled heedless, flying back into the North. But Rothgar was not among them, for in the waning light of the dying day, the orcish general had seized the mount of a fallen Man, and sought to strive with the riders from the saddle. But scarcely had he mounted when the horse bucked, and threw him, and as he struggled to his feet, turned and stove in his head with its hooves. And thus ended the greatest threat the Men of Taldara have ever known, unmarked and unnoticed, at the blows of one he saw as little threat. But the Berezani rested only a day, to tend their injured and bury their dead, ere they pursued their quarry, and as battle was joined with the giantkin left behind, the defenders of Taldara issued forth, and a great valor of the dwarves of Morgardoth did spearhead the sortie, long accustomed to doing battle against the larger foes, and so the remnants of the horde were caught between the hammer and the anvil, and as the few survivors fled into the wild, the Warleader of the Berezani, Atman Khurya Pruschev, was welcomed into the city by Robert Eisengard, Captain of the City, and so ended at last what is called together the Battle of Taldara. The Rebirth of Empire In the months following the victory over Rothgar and his savage horde, many of those who had united against him remained close in league with one another. In time, Robert Eisengard, having been made Lord of the people of Taldara by popular accord, sought the hand of the druid Salena, daughter of Khurya Pruschev, who was called ‘Wolfrider’ by some after arriving borne on the back the great dire wolf Ghrazk, her companion and guardian. Their wedding sealed the bonds of friendship between their two nations, and coming soon after the signing of a permanent alliance between the Taldaran people of the Tarathai valley and the coastal territories of Meloria, laid the groundwork for the emergence of a new, powerful nation. With the ascension of Lord Eisengard to the joint rule of his homeland and Meloria, and the assured loyalty of the Berezani tribes, many found good reason to believe that peace and prosperity would spread beneath the benevolent watch of what many already named the Taldaran Empire.