~As talked about last week, I am planning on posting the prologue of my book on the site over the next six weeks. This story is set in my gaming world. Any feedback would be appreciated.~
A world screamed silently into the void of chaos. The void was not the only plane this world inhabited. The world coexisted in the chaotic void and in the physical realm where one side of it was warmed by the light of a brilliant sun, the other was cloaked in night, illuminated by stars. It existed in the minds and lives of the races that lived out their days on and under its surface. It was alight with metaphysical purpose as well as physical. This world was a shining silver sphere in the vastness of the void of this plane of existence, the dark of chaos. It hung solitary in a void that was not empty of presence. Untold numbers of daemons assaulted it with unformed fists, sliced with improbable claws, and bit with impossible teeth, all to gain entry to the assailed world. It was more than the world could bear or should have borne.
The Interdict of Nomis had not yet reached the end of its strength. The barrier that kept Law from Chaos and the daemons outside of the realm of the dead god who created it held as it had for uncounted millennia. That shell of authority kept the tortured world shielded from the legions that assaulted it in mindless frenzy. The lesser daemons: winged Scartha, brutish Tremblor, fluid Sigg, and a thousands upon thousands of others leapt at the invisible wall with but one purpose. They craved to enter the world again, to be clothed in flesh and to move through the currents of time once more, all for the purpose of setting into motion the ruin of the world. The world shuddered under the onslaught; the Interdict, its shell and shield, buckled and flexed and repelled its assailants. All the foul host, great and small, were turned away, recoiling in savage hate.
Except those that few that found the fractures. No work, however mighty the will or power of the worker, however perfect the intent or design of the work, is immune to the ravages of chaos. Especially when that violence is directed by a dark and terrible purpose. Daemon Lords commanded the shells undermining from hoary castles in the nihilism of the void. They dominated their chaotic brethren, not though order but through sheer might and inhuman cunning. The great and terrible Lords were able to see, however briefly, beyond the rage that drove their brethren futilely against the Interdict. While their lesser kind attacked the shining orb with a volatile need to shatter it and blot its light out for eternity, the lords plotted and planned to shatter the world from within. And to hone their minds, they plotted and planned against each other, causing setbacks and wars and eternal rivalries. But all their conflicting strategies, their petty struggles, their forgotten slights from previous ages were secondary to the goal. All the Lords of Chaos focused on exploiting the fractures, to wedge them wider.
Over its seven ages of existence, minute flaws had appeared in the Interdict. Most were sadly caused not by a failure of the ward but by the intent of creatures who lived within the sphere. Dark sorceries could pierce the shell of protection that enshrouded the world and rip a daemon through the wall, leaving behind a scar where the protective magics tried to heal themselves. These scars would fade in time, but what sorcerer summons only one daemon? And over the course of epochs, the scars on the shield of the world multiplied. Now the scars that endured openly suppurated. This happened slowly. The mutilation was imperceptible to the mortals, immortals, and deities of this world, but not to the daemons who waited with rapine hunger to feast on the world, and not their lords in their halls who yearned to delve once more into the land of their birth. Now their evil had a way in. The ward that was created to last for all of time was starting to fail. When it did, it would go unnoticed by its charges. Time would fall an instant after its defense did, and the whole of its existence that lived within that silvered orb would be obliterated. All due to the pride and hubris of the race that Nomis fashioned the world for, the Senti, or in the common tongue, the Elves.
A world screamed silently into the void of chaos, and the body of the man who experienced its pain as if it were his own flinched again. He closed his eyes, even as the sensation faded for the moment. He possessed the knowledge that it would come again like the tide on the beach of his soul: inevitable and relentless. Though his eyes were closed, the screaming still continued. But these were not the screams of daemons, nor was the acrid stench in his nostrils the foul burning of chaos. No, the sesantions that assaulted him now were more mortal, yet no less horrific. Focus; you must focus. This is the task at hand, he told himself, taking a deep breath that brought with it the taste of charred meat. All around him a city burned. The thar pulling the cart knew the way. Guided by their master’s will and sadly accustomed to the slaughter, they traversed the carnage that surrounded them unerringly and unperturbed. The dull sounds of their six thickly padded manus sounded against the stone, and the creaking wooden wheels of the cart they pulled helped center the man. The soft texture of the cracked leather reins in his hands grounded him to this moment in this place.
His hands grasped at the strap like a lifeline; strong hands disguised by weathered skin gave any onlooker the impression of fingers weak with age. The man stared at them as the cart rumbled down a narrow thoroughfare, always unsure they were truly his. His mind remembered different hands, sword wielding hands, smooth with age and purpose. He remembered his head topped with wheat colored hair, cut short like his order required. Bright blue eyes full of conviction set above a strong nose and a closely-cropped beard. But that was another life, he reminded himself. The hair had grown out, steeling as it lengthened. The beard had been razored away, revealing a clean face as rough as his hands. The years had not always been kind to him. The man shook his head to drag himself back to the present as the thar dragged the heavy cart over an upturned cobblestone. The bed of the cart groaned as the bump produced a shifting of weight. The load was covered by a heavy blanket and bound to the side rails of the wagon with thick chains. Those chains were padded with a rust-stained quilted cotton to muffle the sound, and another blanket the color of dirty snow rested on top of the whole bundle. The man’s self-appointed mission was to remove this load from the city.
The city he traveled through was Rothin, capital of the once continent-spanning Panthihn Empire. The Empire of Man, as some poetically referred to it, had stood for three ages of this world. Founded in the Age of Dragons, Rothin was the seat of the Draconic rule on Sentalii when the great beasts dominated the world. It became the rallying point for the mortal resistance against the Draconic Tyranny in the latter half of that age, led by half-elves of the ancient line of Panthihn. When the Age of War began, it was this city and her half-elven kings, armed with deities of war, which brought ruin to the dragons and wiped their plague from the surface of the world. And when the last of the dragons had been slain or sent into hiding, Rothin was where victory was celebrated. The city itself was a mural of history, painted out in stone buildings and myriad roadways. Ancient human temples were surrounded by the basalt towers of the dragons. From the feet of these ruined monstrosities, but still towering over rest of the city, spread the barracks and command buildings of the mortal races who rose up to fight for freedom: the squat, ramshackle Dwharven bunkers, the graceful lines of Elven war temples, the walled human garrisons, and blending of those two that was half-elf architecture. Intermixed were the remnants of Tanar clutches, Auxen tent grounds, and other unilateral buildings that had succumbed to the ravages of time. These buildings had become the core of the greatest city the mortal races had produced. It was the center of culture and learning and light on the great eastern continent of Sentalii. And now it burned.
The man, his cart, and its contents passed underneath Dornthin’s Arch, traveling one of the great thoroughfares of Rothin. The Arch was once an outer gate to the city long ago. It was quickly swallowed up in the outgrowth of the capitol, as more beings migrated or fled to the sheltering arms of the Panthihn Kings. As he passed through the tunnel that was the arch, the man mused on the fact that it had been built as part of the Cathedral of Qin, the God of Dragonslayers. His chosen knights called Rothin their home, and their chapterhouse was built as part of the walls to defend it. This order of brave men had wasted away, the last of their heirs riding into battle against the Dark Horde of Thoan. Their legacy was now empty and not likely to last the week.
The distinct sounds of blade parting flesh and of bones cracking caused the man’s head to snap up from his reverie. He had passed through the Arch sometime past, subconsciously navigating his thar toward the great southern gate. His introspection cost him the element of forewarning and the Wolfan girl her life. Drawing back on the reins caused the thar pulling the cart to jerk their load to a halt in the center of a large courtyard, muscle and wood straining against the wagon’s gathered momentum. The man witnessed in silence the carnage that took place across the way. Twenty men, all bearing a crimson fist on their tabards hacked at the grey furred creature, too caught up in bloodlust for anything but butchery. Their leader, someone the man recognized immediately, stood off to the side and watched his men savage the dead form. The fires of the razed city reflected off his black enameled cuirass, emblazoned with his personal sigil, a crimson fist. This commander had many names on the field of battle, but the title given to him by the Dark Horde and its leader was the appellation he embraced, the Rivener. The Rivener was one of the Thoan’s generals. He possessed a keen mind, a boundless ambition, and a dark and terrible hatred of life. He led his men on the side of the dark god, and they had carved a bloody swath across the plains of Sentalii. Despite having his dark god overthrown and his home city burned around him, the man continued to wade in his river of blood. The Rivener turned toward the man, his mouth caught halfway between an order and shock.
“Wanderer?” he asked in a low defensive whisper, as if he felt like his eyes were not to be trusted. They flicked back and forth between the man on the cart and the cart itself. Already the Rivener’s mind was racing down paths, putting the pieces together. Flight was impossible, he knew, for the breadth of the Wanderer’s might was known to him. But the chance that he had expended himself too greatly, drawn too deeply on power which he would not have had time to recover gave the Rivener a sliver of hope. He licked his lips, wetting the dried skin his tongue found there as he contemplated his next move. With a casual shrug born of desperation, he ordered his men, “Kill the old man, and bring his cart to me.”
The men’s heads lifted up, and the Wanderer’s heart broke. They bore the markings of their half-elf lineage, but it was clear that they were something much darker now. The subtle corruption of spirit that Thoan had begun decades earlier had finally blossomed, becoming physically overt. Each had grown pale, too pale for those who walked under the sun. They gripped their weapons made of fine Rothin steel awkwardly as if still getting used to their weight and balance. The Wanderer could see their grips being thrown off by the extra knuckle on newly lengthened fingers. But still they followed their commander’s orders. Gore-splattered blades lifted as the mercenaries broke out in a run, crossing the courtyard with the alacrity of battle trained warriors. Swords, axes, and maces reflected the ruddy light of the city burning around them.
They managed to cross half the distance before the Wanderer’s eyes closed and he acted. The same soul that weathered the assault of the world by forces beyond the ken of mortal minds now reached out to the ambient mana around him. In the span of one metal shod step of the violent stampede approaching him, the man’s soul pulled the world’s magic inside itself and annealed it with knowledge earned through trial and tribulation. The wave of force that struck the squad was amplified and changed from the gentle energy that pervaded the essence of the world. In a crackling flash, it bound each member of the Rivener’s horde, including the warlord himself, in a transparent bubble of stasis, frozen unaware like insects in tree sap. Faces permanently twisted in hate-filled expressions, breaths held in the prelude to vicious exhalation. Caught between one moment and the next, the imminent savagery was rendered impotent. The man, who was called by some the Wanderer, opened his eyes and surveyed the orchestrator of the carnage around him.