|Game (Context)||The Orbs of the Dead God (Shadow Wars)|
|Height||7 ft 1 in|
|Class and Level||Robocop 20|
|Hit Points||100||100||No current injuries.|
|Experience (Robocop)||3,750,000||3,750,000||Next Level: No further advancement possible|
|Strength||21||21||Attack Adj.: +4; Damage Adj.: +9; Weight Allowance: 635 lbs; Max Press: 810 lbs; Open Doors: 17(12); Bend Bars/Lift Gates: 70%|
|Dexterity||10||10||Missile Adj.: +0; Reaction Adj.: +0; Armour Class: +0|
|Constitution||Special - See Background & Notes|
|Intelligence||18||18||Bonus Languages/Proficiencies: 7|
|Wisdom||12||12||Magic Defence Adj.: +0|
|Charisma||14||14||Comeliness Modifier: +0; Initial Reaction Adj.: +2; Loyalty Base: +1; Max. Number of Henchmen: 6|
|Perception||18||18||Find/Rem. Traps bonus: +10%; Detect Noise bonus: +15%; Detect Assassin bonus: +10%; Detect Illusion bonus: 15%; Tracking bonus: +20%/+|
|Comeliness||10||10||Charisma Modifier: +0|
|THAC0||11||11||Melee: 7; Missile: 11|
|Armour Class||Trunk: AC 0; arms & legs: AC 4; hands, wrists, neck & head: AC 6||Trunk: AC 0; arms & legs: AC 4; hands, wrists, neck & head: AC 6||Symbiont absorbs the first 50 hp of damage if Fenrir is struck where it covers him|
|Paralysation, Poison, & Death Magic||2|
|Petrifaction & Polymorph||3|
|Rod, Staff, & Wand||4|
|Broad Group||Proficient with Hammers (war hammer, maul, sledge)||3||Familiar with (-1) most Axes, Clubs, Maces, Picks, and their related Polearms|
|Warhammer||Grand Master||4||Plus proficiency that was gained as part of the broad weapon group proficiency|
|Ancient Geography||16||Intelligence -2||2|
|Ancient History||17||Intelligence -1||2|
|Ancient Languages||18||Intelligence +0||1|
|Direction Sense||15||Wisdom + Perception, averaged +0||1|
|Distance Sense||15||Wisdom + Perception, averaged +0||1|
|Investigation||16||Intelligence + Perception, averaged -2||1|
|Observation||18||Intelligence + Perception, averaged +0||1|
|Omen Interpretation||14||Intelligence + Wisdom + Perception, averaged -2||1|
|Persuasion||14||Intelligence + Charisma, averaged -2||1|
|Read/Write||19||Intelligence +1||2||Includes the ability to read and write dwarven runes and other ancient alphabets.|
|Religion||15||Intelligence + Wisdom, averaged +0||Bonus|
Common, Draconic, Dwarven, Elvish, Gnomish, Goblinoid, Orcish, Sylvan
|Power Points||162||Every time all of Fenrir's power points have been expended he must consume 48 ounces of oil of vitriol combined with 80 ounces of water to replenish them. Every pound of sulphur-bearing ore yields 1d4 ounces of oil of vitriol; a maximum of 10 lbs of ore can be processed at any one time; processing takes a full day and requires an alchemical laboratory (which Fenrir has in his tower) plus the time to collect/mine the ore (2d20 hrs). Alternatively, there is a 25% chance per alchemist visited that it will be available for purchase for (1d6+4) x 20 gold/8 ounces. Rather than paying, Fenrir can also try to intimidate, charm, suggest, dominate, etc. However, if he returns to an alchemist he took unfair advantage of and tries that a second time, charm and suggestion will not work, and the target saves against domination at +6…a small safeguard the gods emplaced lest the Alcanti abuse their powers for their own benefit.|
|Teleport Without Error||15 pp to activate.||Additional 5 pp for every 250 lbs above 250 lbs initial allowance, 10 additional pp for every 250 miles, or fraction thereof, over the first 250 miles achieved by activation; can carry a maximum of 950 lbs above his own weight. Fen can teleport himself and 200 lbs of gear 250 miles at a cost of 30 pp; 1500 miles costs 80 pp.|
|Light||1 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, as per spell except can only be cast upon the caster himself. Produces about 40 lumens (3 candlepower).|
|Greater Light||5 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, as per spell. Lasts twice as long (40 turns); produces twice as much light (about 80 lumens/6 candlepower).|
|Continual Light||10 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, as per spell.|
|Sending||25 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Permanency||150 pp to activate.||Per spell, plus all Defensive Powers used within personal fortress.|
|Power Word "Hold"||25 pp to activate.||Can affect a total of 150 hp/casting. Affects people, animals, monsters, and undead. Range: 20 yds; duration: 10 rounds. If attempting to hold more than 150 hp, target(s) with highest lvl will be free of effect, until total affected is reduced below 150 hp.|
|Tongues||10 pp to activate, 5 pp per additional turn.||Otherwise, per spell. Available as a permanent effect.|
|Suggestion||15 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Mass Suggestion||30 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Eyebite||25 pp to activate.||Does not affect Alcanti or Shadow, otherwise, per spell.|
|Charm||10 pp to activate.||Can affect people, animals, and monsters. Otherwise per Charm Person or Mammal spell.|
|Lightning Bolt||15 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Chain Lightning||30 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
Are only available to an Alcanti in his fortress.
|Spectral Force||30 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Advanced Illusion||50 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Permanent Illusion||150 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Programmed Illusion||75 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Screen||150 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Guards and Wards||75 to 150 pp to activate, depending on complexity.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Vacancy||50 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Mirage Arcana||100 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Simulacrum||100 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Monster Summoning I||50 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Monster Summoning II||75 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Monster Summoning III||100 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Monster Summoning IV||125 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Monster Summoning V||150 pp to activate.||No material components necessary, otherwise, per spell.|
|Item||Quantity||Type||Description & Notes|
|Symbionts||3||Protection & Life Support||Description in history|
|Tool Kit||1||General||Part of portable pack/survival kit; includes 1 extra vial of Oil of Vitriol|
|Fortress||1||Residence||Ancient, filled with deadly traps and exotic treasures…the usual guff|
|Complete Alchemical Laboratory||1||General||Fully equipped, with components stockpiled for the upcoming cometary pass; in fortress|
|Oil of Vitriol||7||Consumable Supplies||Full 48 oz vials stored in Alchemical Laboratory|
|Glarin||1||Ally||A venerable male red dragon (837 y/o); he has been Fenrir's roommate/companion/bodyguard for the past 500 years.|
|Talutah||1||Ally||Female half-dragon, Glarin's granddaughter (189 y/o); half-dragons have the modifiers of dragons one age category lower than their actual age, so while she is an adult, she fights as, and is the size of, a young adult. She has lived with Fen and Glarin for the past 100 years.|
|Galeb Duhr||µ||Allies||Colony that lives right outside Fenrir's fortress; they are neighbours and friends.|
|Plesiosaurs||µ||Dependants||A small, stable population; their ancestors were caught in a very deep mountain loch after a long-ago earthquake; believed extinct (and are everywhere else). Fen protects them.|
|Blessed Bees||µ||Dependants||A large and growing apiary of bees of a species whose survival was critically threatened during the last cometary pass. Fen has been working to restore their numbers and area of distribution. Their honey has extraordinary medicinal qualities|
|Dragonne||1||Pet||See history for details.|
|Hellhound||1||Pet||See history for details.|
|Bniggfrist||1||Weapon||Intelligent warhammer; see history for details|
Second Skin Armour is the name people use to describe a strange and mysterious magical artefact, very rare and very precious--only a scant handful have ever been discovered…
The Alcanti call it the Symbiont and know it is one of their greatest strengths and greatest vulnerabilities; an integral component of their operation, it provides the power for day-to-day functioning and for repair in the event an Alcanti is damaged. It has 50 hp, and--for good or ill--absorbs the first 50 hp of damage delivered to its wearer; damage above 50 usually, but not always, kills it. It appears black to mortal eyes, but it's not…if a thin film is spread out in bright light it becomes apparent that it's a very dark green due to the chlorophyll it contains. It must receive several hours of sunlight (or Continual Light containing the same full spectra as sunlight) nearly every day to stay healthy, and thereby useable. When an Alcanti wears this organic construct it transfers energy to him; in return it draws nutrients (predominantly nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium) and water from him in obligate mutualism.
Just like organic people, Alcanti need to drink fresh water every day (or as close to that optimum as they can get). They can take in nitrogen from the air (while they don't precisely breathe, in the way that people do, they have a respiratory system to permit normal speech including lung analogs where gas absorption takes place) and every one to two months they need to consume potash and apatite or guano (most Alcanti prefer the mineral forms to guano, but actually guano serves the same essential purpose, and provides all three necessary nutrients).
When a Symbiont is touched by an Alcanti, or certain organic races, it flows up to completely cover his body. The wearer has to push the Symbiont back from those places he doesn't want covered, usually the head and hands, although some allow it to flow up and form a cowl leaving only the face exposed. The Symbiont itself will not cover the soles of the feet or wherever it will be subjected to constant abrasion, or where the hair covering is so thick it can not feed. It can be trained to conform to the preferences of its customary wearer; after three or four wearings with the same configuration, it will flow to the limits previously set and no further. It will not attach itself to scaled or furred creatures, but the relatively sparse hair on humans, elves, and dwarves does not impede its feeding; it will accept them as hosts.
Each day an Alcanti does not wear his Symbiont he loses 1 hp. When he is reduced to 0 hp, he stops functioning; he doesn't die, and can be revived if some external force places a Symbiont on his body, but he is completely defenceless and very easy to kill. If a healthy Symbiont is placed on an Alcanti that has "powered off" it will take him 2 days to revive; he must have acquired 10 hp before active operation can be restored. He will have no memory of anything that occurred while he was unpowered. If an Alcanti has been injured, a healthy Symbiont can restore 5 hp/day as well.
Unlike the Alcanti, Symbionts can, and must, reproduce; they only have a lifespan of between 750 and 1000 years. Once every 100 to 200 years a Symbiont will start to writhe, putting out small, spiky protrusions. In time one of these will grow until it's about a foot long, thicken into a rounded (sausage-like) shape, and then the base where it connects to its "mother" will start to constrict until the bud has completely detached. The baby Symbiont must be carefully nurtured; the easiest way to do this is to allow it to attach to the same host as its parent. The parent will flow to allow the bud access to nutrients and sunlight. When it reaches about half its mature size, it can be removed and wearing can be alternated. The immature Symbiont will flow to cover the host, but it's thin and has only half the hp of a mature specimen.
An Alcanti does not--can not--sleep, but he is organic enough that he does tire. Every time he uses his powers, fights for five minutes, or engages in vigorous exertion for ten minutes, he loses one fatigue point. When he is reduced to zero he can do absolutely nothing until he has rested, not even walk or raise a weapon in self-defence. It takes two minutes of complete rest to recover one fatigue point. Any activity, even something as non-strenuous as walking, doubles the time needed. If an Alcanti is injured he tires more quickly and takes longer to recover. If he is between 25 and 50% down, he loses two fatigue points every time he uses his powers, fights for five minutes, or engages in vigorous exertion for ten minutes, and needs three minutes to recover one point, between 51 and 75% down, he loses three fatigue points every time he uses his powers, fights for five minutes, or engages in vigorous exertion for ten minutes, and needs four minutes to recover one point, between 76 and 100% down, he loses three fatigue points every time he uses his powers, fights for five minutes, or engages in vigorous exertion for ten minutes, and needs four minutes to recover one point.
When viewed at rest, the first thing anyone notices about Bniggfrist is its extraordinary beauty, the next, its lethality. Made entirely of mithral silver banded and inlaid with gold, it has the gleam of fine jewellery that will never tarnish or deteriorate over time.
It appears to be a standard warhammer +2, and it will allow itself to be used as such by any creature with neutrality as one element of his or her alignment and warhammer proficiency. However, in the hands of its dedicated owner, or by anyone as above in pursuit of creatures of Shadow, its full potential is realized.
Bniggfrist has the following characteristics:
Primary ability: Detect Shadow, all manifestations, including Shadow magic, or the presence of a creature of Shadow, within a 10 foot radius
Special ability: Emits full daylight when being used against the forces of Shadow
Additional ability: Detect Illusion within a 15 foot radius
Additional ability: ESP, 30 yards range--3 times/day, 1 round per use
Additional ability: Can read languages/maps of any nonmagical type
Additional ability: Speaks/reads 5 languages, Common, Dwarven, Orcish, Draconic (Alcanti), Goblinoid
Fen snatched Bniggfrist up from the field of battle after Tilador killed Diarmuid, her Maker and first Companion/Wielder. Diarmuid was a smith, not a fighter, the creator of most of the legendary weapons of the Alcanti; the mortals thought of him as the god of the forge and metallurgy, and would crowd to him to learn. He loved that.
Fen isn't quite sure where this fire-dog came from; he is unquestionably unique on the continent of Tamaranth, and he may not be native to the planet. However Yllätys, more commonly called Hellie, loves him and is fanatically loyal and protective; he's also quite fond of the red dragons who he thinks of as packmates. He's not so sure about the dragonne--she is, after all, a cat and a relative newcomer--but he respects her: she's a formidable fighter. They tussled once, and thereafter Hellie left her alone.
Fen found Hellie shortly after the last cometary pass, a terrified, tiny puppy. At this point he is getting old, and a bit stiff in his joints, with grey, like ashes, in his muzzle. He has a dark red, rough coat, with black markings, amber-brown eyes and a black nose; a powerful boy, he stands nearly four feet tall at the shoulder and weighs just over 180 lbs. (visualise an extremely large, powerful Irish wolfhound).
He has exceptional sight, smell, and hearing, even better than dragon senses. He can be surprised just 5% of the time. While he understands both Common and Draconic/Alcanti quite well, the shape of his muzzle keeps him from speaking more than a few words.
Armour Class: 4
Hit Dice: 7 (49 hp)
No. of Attacks: 1 (Bite)
Special Attacks: Breathe fire
Hell hounds attack first by breathing fire at an opponent up to 10 yards away. The fire causes 1 point of damage for each of the hell hound's Hit Dice. A successful saving throw vs. breath weapon cuts the damage in half. The hell hound then attacks with its teeth. The hell hound can continue to exhale flame while biting. If the hell hound rolls a natural 20 on its attack roll, it grabs a victim in its jaws and breathes fire on the victim.
The hurricane of '77 was the worst in at least 500 years. How such an enormous storm ever formed was a mystery; it covered the western half of Tamaranth, from Qaicyn to Tanalok, stopped only by the D'Scaris. It had made landfall just south of Irnas, unweakened by its devastating travels over Assel-Praeth. Fen had been out assessing the damage when he came upon a sad, bedraggled, battered, half-drowned dragon-cat, blown up from the southern lands. Her wings and claws had been barely sufficient to keep her afloat, clinging to wreckage or occasionally airborne, her scales had been just enough to protect her from buffeting that for most creatures would have surely been fatal. As it was, Fen, Talutah, and Glarin had a time of it nursing her back to health; she almost didn't make it. By the time she was well again, Storm Kitty (or Stormy, for short) had bonded with all of them. (Storm Kitty, or Storm Baby, was the soubriquet of endearment that Talutah had crooned to her when caring for her; she decided she liked it. She spoke both Common and Draconic/Alcanti, but she wasn't quite bright enough to grasp sophisticated concepts or employ a large vocabulary. She was feline, therefore she was a kitty; she'd been through a terrible, horrible, awful storm and survived…she was Storm Kitty.) These were good people, this was a good place, even the doggie was tolerable. She'd stay.
Dragonnes live as long as dragons do, and have the same keen senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Their enhanced senses enable them to detect all invisible objects and creatures (including creatures or items hidden in darkness or fog) within a radius equal to 10 feet times their age category. They also possess the same natural clairaudience ability with respect to their lairs; the range is 20 feet per age category, and they must concentrate on a specific section within their lairs or surrounding area to hear what is going on. Stormy was a juvenile when Fen found her; she is now a young adult.
Armour Class: 6 (Flying), 2 (Ground)
Movement: 15, Fl 9 (E)
Hit Dice: 9 (72 hp)
No. of Attacks: 3 (Claw/Claw/Bite)
Special Attacks: Roar
A dragonne's roar causes weakness (due to fear) in all creatures within 120 feet of the monster, unless they roll successful saving throws vs. paralysation. Those creatures that save are not affected, but those that fail to save lose 50% of their Strength for 2d6 rounds. Worse still, any creature within 30 feet of the dragonne when it roars are deafened for 2d6 rounds. No save is possible against the deafening aspect of the dragonne's roar, and all affected creatures cannot hear any sound and fight with a -1 penalty to attack rolls (due to disorientation).
The dragonne's roar is like a dragon's breath weapon in that it can only be used once every three rounds. Creatures within the range of the dragonne's roar must roll saving throws vs. fear each time they hear it. Once a creature is deafened, however, it cannot hear the dragonne's roar, and need not save against it, until the 2d6 rounds of temporary deafness are over.
This is the art of discovering the truth through careful examination of a problem or situation. Fenrir is familiar with the process of interviewing or interrogating witnesses, searching scenes for clues or information, and the general execution of a logical and thorough investigation. An investigation proficiency check can be used to discover clues at the scene of a crime or to extract information from a witness or suspect.
Fenrir has cultivated exceptional powers of observation. The DM may ask for a proficiency check anytime there is something subtly wrong or unusual in the environment or situation. For example, Fenrir may note the fact that the tools of a potter’s shop are caked with a different kind of clay than that present in the workshop, or he might notice telltale marks of traffic that indicate the presence of a secret door.
Unlike oratory, which relies on emotion and rhetoric, the art of persuasion is built around intelligent arguments and personal charm. This proficiency represents the ability to present especially cogent arguments and explanations in conversation with an individual or small group. With a successful proficiency check, Fenrir can convince them to take moderate actions they may be considering already; for example, he may convince city guards to leave without making arrests if a brawl's already finished by the time they get there, or he may convince a court official that he needs an audience with the king. This proficiency does not apply to other PCs.
Fenrir is well-versed in all aspects of laboratory technique, scientific method, the proper way to conduct experiments, and the properties of various chemicals, reagents, and substances. If he has access to his laboratory, he can use his knowledge to identify unknown elements or compounds, create small doses of acids, incendiaries, or pyrotechnical substances, or brew certain potions.
Identifying substances or samples of unknown material requires 1 to 4 days and a successful proficiency check. Simple materials, such as powdered metals or ores, provide the alchemist with a +1 to +4 bonus on his check, at the DM’s discretion. Rare, complex, or damaged or incomplete samples might impose a –1 to –4 penalty.
Other than oil of vitriol, Fenrir must pass a proficiency check in order to successfully manufacture a substance; creating dangerous substances such as acids or burning powders takes, on average, 1d3 days and (1d4+1) x 10 gp per vial, or 2--7 (1d6+1) days and (4d4+4) x 10 gp per flask, modified by the substance (for example, producing glacial acetic acid is obviously going to take considerably longer and be more expensive and risky than making simple vinegar; if he wants to make fluoroantimonic acid he can probably do it, but that would be--or was--a lengthy quest in and of itself, first obtaining the magical or blessed vessels to contain it, then gathering the materials for each step and passing literally dozens of proficiency checks). Failing a proficiency check with a natural roll of 20 might result in an explosion or other mishap that exposes Fenrir, or anyone else in the immediate area, to the effects of his work and damages the laboratory for up to 10%–60% or 1d6 x 10% of its construction value, again depending on the substance being made. If he was making carbolic acid, he'd probably have to do some repainting…
When used as a weapon, acid damage is variable, depending on the acid and its concentration, and will be arbitrated on a case-by-case basis. It is apt to be considerably greater than the value given in the PHB.
Incendiaries ignite when exposed to air. A flask of incendiary liquid inflicts damage no less than that of burning oil (2d6 points in the first round and 1d6 in the second.) Incendiary powders or liquids can easily start fires if used on buildings, dry brush, or other such surfaces.
Pyrotechnic materials resemble incendiaries, but create clouds of billowing smoke. A vial creates a cloud of smoke 5 feet high by 5 feet wide by 5 feet deep, obscuring vision. A flask creates a cloud of smoke 10 feet high by 10 feet wide by 10 feet deep. The clouds persist for 1d3 rounds, depending on the wind and other conditions.
Fenrir is familiar with the location and size of settlements and cities, the sites of battles, the regions where the Valverusian avatars appeared, where the Orbs are fixed, and more. A successful proficiency check allows him to determine where a city's limits were, recognize a ruined keep as an ancient temple or fortress, and whatever other information is germane from the time he was created to the present across the length and breadth of Tamaranth.
Since the creation of the Barrier Fenrir has learned to infer information about the will of the True Gods from natural phenomena. He cannot choose when to use the proficiency, nor what questions to seek answers to. Omens are signs hidden within the seemingly mundane or natural world (and therefore obscured from the Valvarusian avatars), sent by the deities to give direction, warnings or encouragement to their loyal followers. The flight of a rare bird, patterns in the sunset, the colour of smoke rising from a campfire…all of these things may be omens revealing their divine will and purposes to those who know how to look. This proficiency allows Fenrir to recognize and identify an omen.
It is possible for him to seek an omen. For example, he might spend a day standing on a hilltop looking for unusual birds, or take a walk through the woods studying the wildlife and plants; after 1d10 hours have passed, a successful proficiency check means the character identifies an omen. Otherwise, he has no control over when, or if, an omen appears.
The night sky as seen from the continent of Tamaranth is a brilliant and beautiful thing, crowded with stars in a hundred constellations, and jewelled with seven moons and five planets.
The major moons are Candra, the largest moon, and Lixue, only slightly smaller but far enough out that it appears to be only two-thirds the size. Its orbit is permanently 45º ahead of and above Candra. The minor moons are Nuala, Ophira, Malana, Kyros and Halle. Of the seven moons, the five minor moons are small enough that their effect on tides is negligible. Together the two major moons have an effect similar to Luna on Terra insofar as the length of day and other rotational effects are concerned, but the tides differ a little in that all areas experience a mixed semidiurnal tide cycle, with Lixue acting as an intensifier.
The planets of Tamarsphere are Iliana, rocky planet closer to the sun than Tamaranth; Marnin, a rocky planet further from the sun than Tamaranth, ice covered and very bright; next out is Morathi, a medium sized gas giant; then Esus, the largest gas giant in the sphere; and Tethra, the gas giant furthest out, midway in size between Morathi and Esus.
(Revealed by the Chorus on 16 Nonus 1993)"It is most logical to begin at the beginning. Most of the history you believe to be true is a delusion foisted upon you by Valverus a mere two thousand years ago. Most serious students of history already know it for the lie it is, but only our Alcanti understand more than a fraction of the truth. Moira, please cast Dictation, that you all may have a complete and accurate account."
As soon as the venerable mage was ready the gods began, "First, we were never the grandiose 'twelve beings of infinite power' that Valverus claimed we were. Rather, at the end of the last galactic cycle, as all matter and energy converged upon itself, we--twelve once-mortal beings of insatiable curiosity, driven to find out 'what happens next'--devised a method we hoped would allow us to step outside our rapidly imploding universe. Together we formed a force cage, a dodecahedron able to resist gravity, entropy, and the ravages of time itself. We were each responsible for one face of the structure, and if one facet failed, they all would fail, sending us plummeting into the tiny ball of darkness more intense than the brightest light had ever been. We held on grimly, though the battle taxed us, each and all, to the limits of our strength and endurance, millennia after relentless millennia, until the stresses within the black hole singularity triggered an explosion, and the outward expansion of the universe began again. We had absolutely nothing to do with the process, but we now know for certain that Big Bang follows Big Crunch like day follows night.
"We jubilantly told ourselves we were the luckiest people who had ever lived as we rode the stupendous, indescribable wave of power outward. It was easy to convert our force cage into a craft that protected us from the rushing, surging energy and dweomer, surrounded by the indescribable beauty of the birth of stars...and of gods. We watched in fascination as the universe matured, and suns and solar systems formed. We discovered that main-sequence stars between 5000 and 6200 K in temperature and around two nonillion kilograms in weight almost always form a crystal sphere outside their most distant planets; we were amazed to see that it was much like the wall of an ovum, controlling the turbulent, and--in excess--destructive, flood of dweomer, and allowing embryonic gods to develop. It looked like so much fun we decided to try our hands at being gods ourselves, and set off in search of a star that fit the parameters for life as we had once known it, but that lacked a crystal sphere and the developing gods such a structure signalled. It was then that Valverus first showed signs of the illness that would later claim him. He jovially thanked us for our 'help' in creating and sustaining the dodecahedron, taking for himself credit for an enterprise that was, by its very nature, wholly cooperative, and spoke with keen anticipation of founding a pantheon. We were troubled, but took no action beyond correcting his conceit, and Valverus seemed to let the matter drop.
"Eventually we found a solar system that fit our criteria and built our own crystal sphere around it, an artificial construct but identical in all particulars to the natural formation, and then began settling into our new home. The planets and moons had already formed, although accretion and changes in composition were still going on due to heavy bombardment from remaining debris. We nudged the planet that would eventually be known as Tamaranth more securely into the zone of habitability...and again ran square into Valverus, who decreed that the number of moons should be one, and only one. The vote for multiple moons ran ten to two, with Shalniel calmly and reasonably offering cogent arguments in favour of one...and we came to very satisfactory agreement, acknowledging and incorporating the points that Shalniel had raised, balancing the two largest moons so that, in the fullness of time, the length of a day and other rotational effects would be stabilised, and edging the others out far enough that their gravitational pulls were minimal.
"Everyone was happy with the accommodation...except Valverus, who was enraged by our 'defiance.' All twelve of us have slightly different strengths and weaknesses, but in power we are very close to balanced. We would not accept Valverus' arbitrary and self-proclaimed superiority, and made it unequivocally clear to him that we were a cooperative, not a dictatorship. If we disagreed, we would seek to resolve the issue through discussion and compromise, but the majority would rule. Valverus tested us, lashing out with all his strength to smite us...and, to his shock and horror, was neutralised and easily contained. Thus he began a long period of sullen brooding.
"Like all known planets, Tamaranth was originally molten, due to extreme volcanism and frequent collisions with other celestial bodies, but quite quickly (in geologic terms) it cooled enough that rocks and continental plates began to form. Outgassing and volcanic activity produced the first atmosphere; condensing water vapour, augmented by ice delivered from comets, formed the oceans; and life, that ubiquitous and quotidian miracle, began. As we learned more about building a planet, we worked with the natural forces to establish a magnetic field to prevent the planet's atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar winds, and watched as cyclic orogenic continent building and destruction began, along with periods of heating and cooling.
"It was then that we found--or were given--the Templates. In simple, prosaic terms these were planting instructions and seedcorn; adherence would result in a creation that would fit comfortably within a galactic matrix, one very familiar to us, for once we had been part of just such ecosystems. Rejection would limit the eventual beings of Tamaranth to their own, possibly unique, planetary environmental conditions. There was no pressure, no 'right' choice, just options, and thus began another of our Great Deific Debates. For a million years we discussed the matter, looking at implications, weighing alternatives, until we--at least, the eleven of us--reached harmonious consensus, and with a small pang for the paths that would not be taken and a far greater sense of excitement and anticipation, introduced photosynthetic cyanobacteria. Free oxygen started to accumulate in the atmosphere, setting off the mass extinction of obligate anaerobic organisms, laying down iron deposits, and oxidising atmospheric methane to carbon dioxide, triggering glaciation. The increased oxygen concentrations provided a new opportunity for biological diversification. Until oxygen became widely available, life had remained energetically limited, but such a radical breakthrough in metabolic evolution greatly increased the free energy supply to living organisms all over the world.
"Again Valverus unilaterally opposed the general agreement. This time he did not confront us directly, instead attempting by more subtle means to destroy the cyanobacteria and undo the Third Intervention. He was stopped before he could cause damage, and his anger and hatred knew no bounds.
"For the most part we were content to watch the incredible miracle of evolution, doing little more than encouraging a favourable mutation here and there, as prokaryotes were joined by eukaryotes then multicellular organisms. These simple creatures evolved into differentiated plants and animals, then, about 500 million years ago (or some 4 billion years after the world formed) began the conquest of the land. The first vertebrate land animals appeared 380 million years ago. Once again we debated intervention, but this time decided to let phylogeny take its course, and waited patiently for the emergence of mammals 180 million years later. We were intrigued by the diversity that developed, so varied from world to world, even though arising from the same templates and genetic materials. Tamaranth developed insects and arachnids of unprecedented size and complexity, which spurred and altered the evolution of reptiles and hastened the emergence of advanced avian and crocodilian forms; it also meant that virtually every carnivorous or omnivorous species that followed was at least somewhat insectivorous. That is a phenomenon unique to Tamaranth! We watched and marvelled.
"However, at last true primates came forth, and it was time to intervene again if we wanted a world that was compatible with the ones emerging under the guidance of other gods in different spheres. Again Valverus demanded we cease and desist; again the vote was eleven to one in favour of intervention, and Valverus seethed in impotent rage. The pace of change accelerated; 20 million years ago the first proto-hominoids were born, over the next few million years diverging into a number of genera and families that included the great apes, and steadily increasing in intellectual capacity including language, an understanding of culture beyond the family, and such intangibles as empathy and curiosity. At last, a mere 200,000 years ago, the first men, men in all particulars, walked the earth--Homo sapiens Tamaranthi originalis.
"We decided to divide into cooperative teams, the better to encourage the further development of this species, so full of potential, so amazingly close to their brethren, born on worlds that orbited far-distant suns...so achingly close to the beings we once were...billions of years ago. Yeron, Araul, Venall and Urth focussed on the basic phenotype, making very few changes beyond an enhanced adaptability. Ghorail, Shalniel and Miroch divided the species into elves, gnomes and dwarves, breeds that are slightly closer genetically to each other than to humans despite their apparent differences in physiology, and Ylwain, Fellbane, Gye and Kirmmaw shaped orcs, goblins and hobgoblins from the original racial matrix; they were the ones who also, just for fun, experimented with magically integrating genes from mammalian and reptilian creatures...and thus dragons were born.
"Valverus could no longer stand the frustration, our indifference to his increasingly irrational and arbitrary demands, and--most of all--our success and the pleasure we took in these creatures made in our image. He fled out into the universe, declaring that he was done with us and would create his own world, his own universe. In all honesty, we must admit, we were glad and relieved to see him go.
"The various races of men matured; the population increased slowly, faster amongst the relatively short-lived humans--and a stable breeding stock was our most compelling reason for leaving the strain almost untouched--more slowly for the longer-lived elven, dwarven, and gnomish races, moderately for the short-lived but more aggressive goblinoid races--you see, we were scientifically trying to perfect a balance between desirable mutability, physicality, cultural stability, and intellect. It was a fascinating, always delightful, project. The appearance of the comet was the first serious threat that the beautiful world we'd helped shape had faced, and we vowed to do whatever was necessary to protect it and the beings we now thought of as our children."
The gods paused for emphasis, making sure that everyone realised the importance of what they were about to say, "Several of you already know that whilst the tales of 'Great Wars' are utter fabrication, Tamaranth has been subjected to cataclysmic disasters every twenty-five hundred years. Twenty-five hundred and ten years, to be precise. You have all seen or read about the ancient texts, carved into the walls of the Halle der Könige in Tanalok and the Themais Uir in Assel-Vesdra, into remnants found in ruined Shenuth, in other ancient monuments you do not yet know. Places separated by over two thousand miles, but recording the same event in almost the same words. 'And lo, a vast Shadow fell upon the whole world, ravening and foul, and whatever it touched, it devoured, every creature that walks or crawls, that swims or flies, and every plant that grows upon the land or in the waters, sparing not a single blade of grass, and the very earth was scorched and barren, so that afterward seed fell on it and withered as if fallen upon stone...' Written seventy-five hundred years ago. The Burning Times. Der Hunger. Goeol Delos. There are fresh accounts every twenty-five hundred years...and it will return in Quartus, 1995."
"How can a comet do all that?" Ludi asked, deeply troubled and equally confused.
"It's not the comet itself, Ludi," Urth said compassionately, her hand extended toward the dwarven boy. Had she been able to reach out and touch him, comfort him, she would have done so. Reassurance, however, was not hers to give. "The danger, the destruction, comes from the race that lives on it..."
The Chorus explained, "At the same time organic life was evolving on Tamaranth, far out in the Everflowing, in Deep Space, in the roughly spherical cloud of icy planetesimals that surround our solar system nearly a light-year from the Sun, another, far different, ecology was developing. The dwarf planet that would become the comet was a giant in that region of space; it had drawn all its neighbours to itself, accreting so much mass that it reached hydrostatic equilibrium, forming a sphere nearly 250 miles in diameter. On this world, ice around a core of rock and metal, bathed and bombarded by raw dweomer, life began. From simple, minute creatures they progressed to colonies, and then into complex organisms, capable of metabolism, growth, and true reproduction. More aeons passed, and they became increasingly responsive to stimuli. In the fierce competition of their resource poor environment, some creatures developed motility. Step by step, mutation after mutation, the apex of that peculiar genesis acquired intelligence, but in structure they were little changed from their remote ancestors. They were black in all spectra, to soak up every possible scintilla of energy--dweometric, electromagnetic, chemical, thermal, gravitational, and nuclear--and they were nearly two dimensional, sometimes covering very large areas, but infinitesimally flat, presenting the greatest possible surface area for energy absorption. There was no food chain--each individual absorbed energy from any and all available sources and drew the nutrients for metabolism from the dirty snowball that was their home--with the result that every successful adaptation supplanted its progenitor, each in turn spreading out across the surface of their world.
"This stable existence changed when a star passed through that region of space; too far away to draw the world into its orbit, but close enough to cause gravitational perturbations that sent it plummeting toward distant Tamar. At first the inhabitants, sapient but extremely primitive, were unaware of what had befallen them. Generations passed in the same fierce competition for energy and resources they had always known...until they travelled through the Crystal Sphere, some 40 AUs from the star, and the Everflowing, their primary food source, was abruptly and radically curtailed. So far out the solar radiance was woefully insufficient to compensate, as were the gravitational forces of the outer planets, yet worse was to come. Solar radiation caused the volatile materials that comprised the bulk of the comet's mass to vaporize and stream out of the nucleus, carrying dust away with them, in a coma that, at closest approach, stretched out from the sun past rocky Marnin and beyond, and in that first pass it lost nearly 10% of its total mass, most of it in the form of precious, life-sustaining water, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia ice. In the year and a half that the comet remained in the solar system, 90% of the population died off, but the few individuals that survived were the fittest, the most adaptable, and the most ruthless ever seen since their peculiar form of life had evolved.
"We were surprised to discern that intelligent life existed in so unlikely a place, but saw no reason to intervene--species evolve, mature, and become extinct regularly in the universe. Even then we knew this particular form was inimical to all life on Tamaranth, but we didn't believe any action was necessary at that time. Instead we watched, and pondered possible outcomes. We were overconfident idiots! We couldn't have been more wrong.
"Anyway, by the second pass the Shadow had become a single entity, the culmination of ruthless self-preservation. It still appeared to be composed of individuals, but they were all linked in a vast hive mind. It had learned to look outward, sending its senses ranging far and wide, and discovered the planets, huge spheres in stable, almost circular orbits around a reliable food source. The gas giants were not to its taste: dweomer and solar poor, with a gravity that made them dangerous even to Shadow. Marnin, far larger than its home, with a comfortable gravity, rich in essential ice, and bathed in light from a star a mere two AUs away, was highly appealing...until it passed Tamaranth. Soaked in solar radiance and rich in dweomer--coming from us, although it didn't know that--with oceans of volatiles, it thought it had found paradise! It looked no further, but right then began planning to conquer this perfect new world. That it teemed with life already was considered an advantage, facilitating the assimilation of valuable nutrients. Evolution on the comet had never rewarded the concepts of cooperation, compromise, or community; by this point such ideas were literally unthinkable, as meaningless as music to a species without organs of hearing.
"By the third pass, the Shadow was ready to make its move. It sent out appendages to cross the space between the comet and Tamaranth--and met our force blocking it. We were not then resolved to destroy the Shadow--and bitterly have we come to regret our forbearance--but we gave it no purchase on Tamaranth, driving it back onto its own planet. The Shadow was enraged; in its estimation, it was the summit of creation. How dare any entity stand in its way?! Howling vengeance and continued resolve, it continued trying until it passed out of range, travelling back from whence it came. By this time the comet was 15% smaller than when it had first formed.
"The Shadow spent the intervening years perfecting it magics, and planning its next attack. It devised a way to (it believed) absorb the powerful dweomer-fuelled barrier that had blocked it before, and go forth and conquer just that much stronger. It was partially successful. On the next pass, its fourth, it cut a wide swath of destruction across the face of Tamaranth before it was turned back, and those remnants that made planetfall caused further havoc before they could be destroyed, for direct, physical manifestations of our power on a planetary surface is fraught with danger to the ecological balance, even to the structure of the world itself, and our living, vibrant world was the very thing we were striving to preserve. Worse, we realised that it was no longer within our power to destroy it outright; we'd missed our chance.
"We needed help, but although the races of men, and other sapient creatures, had fully evolved into their present forms by then, they were still very primitive; civilisation was in its infancy. It would be many years before there would be priests with the wisdom, knowledge, and experience to channel our grace, so to fill that gap we made representatives that were both greater and lesser than the organic races, with powers both enormous and limited--enormous, to effectively fight against the increasingly powerful Shadow; limited, to prevent them from setting themselves against us or subjugating mortals. The Alcanti were created between 12,543 and 12, 533 years ago, starting five years after the comet's fourth return. Part of their mission was to police, guide, teach, and act as mediators between the organic races--humans, dwarves, elves, gnomes, orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, gnolls, dragons, and so forth--but their primary purpose, the Divine Trust that was central to their being, was to stand between and protect mortals from the Shadow. It is the one single area over which no Alcanti has free will. As long as they live, they will stand and protect.
"Although the Shadow was stronger, more devious, and more determined than ever, both we and the Alcanti were ready for the comet's fifth transit. It was repulsed with minimal loss of life on Tamaranth; we too had been perfecting our strategies and were able to destroy or turn back most of every wave. The depleted vanguard that attempted to establish a presence on the planet were met by the Alcanti and handily defeated. Moreover this orbit had resulted in the vaporisation of a further 5% of the cometary volatiles, and fracture lines were beginning to form. We know that most long period comets live for only a short time, making no more than half a dozen orbits before breaking up or encountering gravitational stresses that fling them into hyperbolic orbits and out of the solar system, never to return. The Shadow comet was much larger than average, but still subject to those same pressures. We deduced that it could not survive for more than another 12,550 years--five orbits--at most, possibly as few as 7,530 years--three orbits. We were cautiously confident that all would be well.
"Contributing to that optimism was the inadvertent capture of a fragment of Shadow. It was not organised enough to retain the horrific sentience of the whole, but it was sufficient for experimentation--in effect, it was a tissue sample. From it we and the Alcanti who were conducting the tests learned that it drew no nourishment from certain types of stone, that a force cage would contain it, and that it was vulnerable to the direct application of fire, provided it was hot enough. With each pass the Shadow had grown more intelligent, more organised, more determined, and more powerful. It seemed poor strategy to allow it 2500 years between passes to refine and perfect its assaults against Tamaranth.
"From these seeds a plan was born. With our full approval and under our direction, the Alcanti tasked with guarding the southern hemisphere cleared an island near the south pole, far from all living things, of all volatiles--anything consumable--and prepared a barrier. They were to channel our power to form a pen to contain the Shadow, and there incinerate it, destroying it forever. Those involved in that enormous project called themselves the Free Men, for--as we said--the one area where Alcanti have no free will is in the battle against the Shadow. Our practical dreamers stepped out on faith, believing that the day was coming when the threat of Shadow would be ended forever." They smiled lovingly, apologetically, at Boand, Uduak, and broken, dismembered Tilador.
While listening, Theo continued to pet the pups. "So...the Alcanti are--the 'good guys'..."
"Indeed they are, Theo," Ghorail, Shalniel and Miroch replied, warmly approving of "their" dwarf.
"Hardly all of them," Tassarion sneered, eyeing Tilador with eyes cold and hard as granite.
"All, Tassarion. Including Tilador. He was playing a dangerous double game, trying to use the Shadow's tools against it, but his heart was always loyal to Tamaranth and the Divine Trust. You, not knowing what was really going on, reacted to what you perceived as traitorous betrayal, whilst he underestimated both your strength and that of the Shadow."
The gods sighed bitterly. "So have we all, time and again, underestimated the Shadow."
"By the time the killing field was ready in all particulars and every detail worked out, most of a turn had passed and nearly half the Alcanti had participated in the colossal effort. We stopped them from telling all their brethren, a decision that proved to be a mistake second only to our failure to destroy the Shadow when we had the chance. The Free Men were wholly focussed on the plan, on what they were calling 'The Final Confrontation'. We fully expected to succeed, but feared that, given their utter confidence, vigilance would be diminished in the event that some significant portion of Shadow escaped our trap. By their nature, Alcanti are constant, a necessary trait for beings that have to remain concentred on one task for millennia. In exchange, they are not flexible or easily swayed. We wanted a significant number unaffected by the anticipation, the almost euphoric expectation, that coloured the Free Men's perceptions...we hedged our bets."
For a perceptible moment the gods paused, mulling grievous memories, before continuing, "Twenty years before the next pass was due the comet moved into range of our senses. We were first shocked, then horrified, even frightened, by what we saw; the Shadow was a full order of magnitude stronger than it had been during its previous transit. There was no possible way our carefully laid plan would work.
"We informed the Free Men immediately; they were dumbstruck and disbelieving...and why wouldn't they be? We were shaken to the core ourselves. They heard us, but could not understand. It was too sudden, too radical a change. They asked us and themselves what they had done wrong, or what task they had failed to do, and couldn't grasp that they were not at fault. They tried to convince themselves that it was all a misunderstanding or correctable error, but it was no mistake, and their confusion became anger and defiance...rebelliousness. We ached for them; they'd worked so hard and so long, the prize had seemed almost within their grasp...and it was yanked away. They felt hurt and betrayed, believed we had judged them inadequate to our purpose, and were determined to prove us wrong."
They looked solemnly at Fenrir, George, and Yngvi, making certain that the Loyalists were listening. "They planned disobedience and voiced their frustration. They sought our approval, tried to make us see that they were fit and ready for the challenge, tried to regain our support. They never, at any time, turned against us or Tamaranth."
Now the gods turned their intent, demanding gaze on Boand and Uduak. "All Alcanti were cruelly betrayed by Rincar, the red dragon now known as Gambit. He had been part of the Plan almost from the beginning, and the Free Men had trusted him unquestioningly. At first he feared consequences, so to save himself from any accusations of complicity he decided to go to those Alcanti who were unaware of what had been happening. However, that rapacious and duplicitous worm soon saw in strife opportunities for personal gain, and gave himself over to malice and greed. The Loyalists were not easy to convince, but Rincar, aided by his sons, divulged the Free Men's hasty and ill-considered words in the most damning ways possible, embellished with lies and lurid impossibilities. Even with feelings inflamed and suspicions raised sky high, the intention of the delegation of Loyalists that approached the Free Men was to talk, to investigate, to learn the truth. This did not suit Rincar's plans. For 7,543 years the Loyalists have claimed the Free Men attacked, whilst the Free Men blamed the Loyalists; in truth, it was neither. Both delegations were ambushed and slain by Rincar and his sons, Moshon, Trymornal, and Rayr. The evildoers won; all the witnesses were dead, and thus the time for talk, for common ground, even for agreeing to disagree and stay out of each other's way, passed before it could begin. Overnight brothers became bitter enemies, and for fifteen brutal years they fought each other in an escalating spiral of destruction, hatred begetting hatred, vengeance begetting vengeance. Even mortals were drawn into the fray, some as combatants, fighting desperately for home and family, more as collateral damage...and then the Shadow returned, unleashing inconceivable horror and havoc.
"A full twenty percent of the Shadow assault broke through our barriers, and only then, when they were fighting the Shadow on the ground, did full understanding come to the Free Men, and with it, shame and penitence...and our full forgiveness." The gods locked eyes with all their Alcanti, their expectation clear. Forgive, as you have been forgiven.
Their gazes held for a long moment before they continued, "The casualties--animal, plant, even the earth itself--mounted to appalling levels, and the battle continued for nearly fifty years before all vestiges of the Shadow had been destroyed. The Burning Times had indelibly scarred--and justifiably terrified--the sapient races, but at the same time science, technology and innovation had taken enormous leaps forward. In some cases with aid from us or from the Alcanti, but more often independently, they made discovery after discovery, particularly in the areas of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and metallurgy. They mapped the night sky, and created a calendar to track the comet and predict its next coming; to treat the injured, medicine advanced from shamanism to empirical science–not perfect, or perfectly understood, by any means, but the foundations were solidly laid--and weapons changed from wood and stone to well-forged bronze seemingly overnight. They also made great progress in mastering the mental discipline necessary to channel our grace and to understand the nature of arcane spellcasting.
"However, consequent to the civil war, conflated as it was with the unspeakable destruction wrought by the Shadow, all of the surviving Alcanti completely lost their effectiveness in their role as judges and arbiters between the organic races, and even as teachers their influence was tragically reduced. Often mortals fled at the very sight of them. Moreover, and worse, the war between the Free Men and the Loyalists continued with no diminution of hatred and implacability. Of the original 5,000 Alcanti, 4,893 had been alive at the start of the civil war. By the time the last appendage of Shadow had been eradicated from the face of Tamaranth, only 2,350 Alcanti survived. Of the 2,543 who died, 840 fell in internecine warfare, whilst fully 1700 died fighting Shadow, but each faction blamed the other for the high mortality rate instead of their common foe.
"Despite the risks, a few Alcanti continued their work--Boand who taught the first druids how to restore the barren land, Mut to attend pregnant and birthing women and their children, Tilador who helped men rebuild their shattered homes, a handful of others with similarly vital skills--but most withdrew into their individual lairs, hardening their defences, and perfecting their strategies for the next cometary pass. The two factions still tried to kill each other off at every opportunity, but over the years they became increasingly wily and elusive; casualties were low, whilst actual fatalities were mostly a matter of luck on the part of the assailant and carelessness, or overconfidence, by the victim. To the mortal races they became the stuff of myth and legend."
Boand closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and slowly walked over to Fenrir, hands open and extended in greeting, yet with a certain wariness in his demeanour as well, unsure how his overture would be received.
Fenrir had listened. The betrayal that was, was not. The truth as he knew it did not exist. It was a moment of terror that became anger. His eyes were wide with rage when Boand approached, and still...
He lowered his head. turned to face the Alcanti and knelt down in front of Boand.
Alcanti hands don't shake. By design they can't shake. Nonetheless, Boand's hands were shaking as he placed them on Fenrir's shoulders and tried to draw him back to his feet. Perhaps it was the quiver of hyper-alert reflexes, ready to snatch them back before they could be lopped off. "I'm sorry," he murmured, and winced as he heard the inadequacy of his own words.
Fenrir stood slowly, looking Boand in the eyes. "I will kill him. For Mut. For Diarmuid. For all of us." By saying the "freeman" Mut's name first, Fenrir made sure Boand knew Rincar, and the Shadow were no longer a divided issue. It has become as it once was, an Alcanti issue.
"We will kill him," Boand corrected, with murderous solidarity.
"But we have tasks you must perform that can not wait," the Chorus interrupted, gently but firmly, understanding their rage. "Moreover, Rincar has not yet suffered the full measure of our wrath. We cursed him, forever stripped him of his draconic shape and powers, barred him from the practice of all magic, and condemned him to suffer as any mortal the scourge of the Shadow, and all the vicissitudes of daily life. We changed his luck; chance never favours him, and wealth eludes him, slipping through his fingers like water through a sieve. Finally, no matter how grievously he is injured, what agonies he endures, he can not die. His life is bound to the Comet; it will end with its destruction."
They paused then and turned to Daala, faces compassionate. "No children he sires have the power to assume the shape that should be their birthright; that was not meant as punishment, but to protect them. Moshon, Trymornal, and Rayr were used and manipulated by their father who incited their avarice and blunted their consciences. When the Shadow came they realised the enormity of the evil they had done, and atoned for their crimes with their life's blood, fighting in the van as only a red dragon can. Rincar always treated his offspring as pawns to use and abuse for his own ends. When he realised his children were, in all respects, merely human, he stopped breeding until Valverus returned. That changed his strategy...but we will talk more later, if we have time. The pressure on Davy right now is tremendous, and we are still limited in how much strength we can give him."
The druidess sadly shook her head in disbelief, "I can now understand your intent in taking the measures that you have. But it still feels like a punishment.
"I am good person, and yet because of the actions of my father, a piece of my identity, one that is freely available to others of my kind, cannot be mine. The suggestion seems that I am only a good person, because I was not allowed my birthright, but I think this is wrong."
She turned her concerned gaze toward Davy before turning back to the Gods that had addressed her "Nevertheless, you have more to share, and I would very much like to hear the rest of your message."
"Daala, you are a good person now because you were raised with unconditional love, consistent, appropriate discipline, and solid moral guidance, far from your sire's destructive machinations. No infant is innately good or evil. Ponder that whilst we proceed," the gods replied, and moved on.
"Since its first attempt to conquer Tamaranth, the Shadow had been unable to venture far from land. The oceans, with their tides and currents, were too unstable for it to gain purchase. However, by the sixth pass it had learned how to spread out upon the waters, and confidently expected to feed there unopposed. It was wrong. One of the few bright spots during those bleak and tragic days was the gallant actions of the Leviathan and sperm whales. Just as the Shadow can not withstand the gravitational pull of the outer planets, so the pressure on the sea floor is lethal to it. The whales would grab an arm of Shadow and dive to abyssalpelagic depths, destroying it utterly. At no point was the Shadow allowed to move into waters deeper than 100 yards. Still, the actions took a harsh toll on those courageous people; in the aftermath we determined to reinforce their efforts, and created the Osprem, to patrol and protect the waters as the Alcanti guard the land. Unfortunately, and despite our repeated, fervent entreaties to end their conflict, both Free Men and Loyalists remained blinded by savage, implacable hatred, and we could not replenish their numbers.
"Tensions built in the two years leading up to the pass of -3025. Closest approach would be on the outward leg of the orbit. We, the Alcanti, both Free Men and Loyalists, the Osprem, and all the peoples of the world waited in tense anticipation. However, as the comet was circling around the sun, a pocket of volatiles deep within the core vaporised and exploded outward, cutting a deep gouge through the body of the planetoid and carrying with it not only the precious, life-sustaining ices but fully one-third of the Shadow itself. Badly weakened yet as desperate as a cornered animal, it frantically threw itself at Tamaranth in wave after wave, but it lacked the science and strategy of its sixth attempt at conquest. Too much of its "brain" had been boiled away, and its organisational structure had been shattered. We destroyed over ninety-eight percent, and the remnant that got through was so fragmented and dispersed it quickly succumbed to mortal spells, both divine and arcane, to the Osprem, and to the Free Men, still the primary protectors of the sparsely populated southern continents and islands. The Loyalists were ready and vigilant, but most of the time the threat had been eliminated by the time they arrived. There was more damage than there had been on the fifth transit, but nothing compared to what the world had suffered during the Burning Times. The people of Tamaranth rejoiced, the Shadow whimpered as it was carried back to the endless night…and we waited and prepared our defences.
"Before the comet's sixth passage most people had been semi-nomadic, following the wild herds during clement weather, hunting and gathering, and staying in winter encampments throughout the cold seasons; agriculture was in its infancy, for on generous Tamaranth, the intensive cultivation of food wasn't necessary. The Burning Times changed these ancient practices forever. Vast swathes of forest and grassland–hundreds of miles in all directions–had been reduced to scorched earth, as sterile as if baked in a kiln, and all the myriad creatures the vegetation had supported were gone, destroyed or scattered. The lands would be long recovering, and suddenly it became a challenge to secure enough nourishment to survive. Moreover, during the fearsome days when Shadow stalked the earth, many of the small bands of herders and hunters had formed alliances, for together a few might survive an assault, but if attacked singly, each group in turn would perish; in this harshest of all schools, they learned the advantages of community. Once the threat of Shadow had been eliminated (for a while), these remnants formed permanent settlements, and agriculture became the primary occupation. Uduak was central to the great strides that were made in the production of crops and the domestication of animals, sufficient to feed an ever-growing population. Increasing numbers led to the need for laws and judges, lawmakers, administrators, and enforcers, and thus was politics born.
"The casualties and destruction of the seventh cometary passage, the second recorded by mortals, were minor enough that they did not threaten these advances, and the civilisations of men flourished over the next twenty-five hundred years, the Golden Age of Tamaranth. The towns began to grow into cities, many of great size and beauty, becoming centres of commerce and scholarship. Knowledge was in full flower. From the simple concepts of number, magnitude, and form that had sufficed before the Burning Times, they developed sophisticated mathematics, including an advanced understanding of algebra, geometry, metrology, and analysis, and all the sciences that derived from applied mathematics: probability and statistics, surveying, optics, architecture, navigation, mechanics...and, as always, astronomy. Metallurgy progressed from bronze to the creation of high-carbon steel alloys unequalled to the present day; the blades and armours produced from those legendary steels all bore distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. From crude, utilitarian clay pots, pottery advanced until it had perfected exquisite porcelain and brilliant glazes. Alchemists and herbalists unlocked the secrets of minerals and plants, and in the process mastered the arts of fermentation and distillation. Nor were they backward in literature, philosophy, and the fine arts, but the pinnacle of their accomplishments was in the fusion of mathematics and science, logic, lore, and longing, into arcane magicka, equalled only by their devotion to and understanding of faith and their ability to channel our grace.
"Such was the world when the comet made its eighth pass. Under the spur of desperation the Shadow had also made advances, patching the fissures in its disintegrating world as much as it could, but devoting the greater part of its time and energy into shaping itself into a terrifying enemy armed with alien but prodigiously effective magic. It surpassed and far exceeded the strength of the sixth wave. Tamaranth had all been making preparations as well. In -515, 2,342 Alcanti still survived. Many had grown sick of warring with those created to be their brothers and sisters, but a significant fraction persisted in vilifying and assaulting each other at every opportunity. Most of those entrenched in hatred were Loyalists, who still blamed the Free Men and took pride in never having doubted. Overall, the Free Men were more humble, burdened by the weight of guilt for a mistake long since expiated in full, and tired, so desperately tired, of the persecution. Some resolved to try one last time to divert the Shadow to the island that they had restored to a holding pen, hoping for another lucky chance to weaken it, such as had occurred on the seventh pass, but determined to allow it no purchase, to fight until it was destroyed or they were. When the comet made its closest approach to Tamaranth and the waves of Shadow surged out to try, yet again, to establish a beachhead, the Free Men met it boldly. Their dauntless gallantry should be the stuff of legends, but even their fellow Free Men did not see how hard they fought or how bravely died. Many thought they failed, forcing breaks in the barrier. Some even wondered if we were punishing them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Over a third of the wave forced through our guard--we would have needed our dodecahedron made large enough to encase the world to stop it--but a mere six hundred Alcanti reduced that terrible force by a full quarter! Even so, the pseudopodia that made it through was devastating: the Burning Times had returned. Civilisations crumbled to blackened dust beneath that ebon bane, and the death toll mounted to astronomical numbers. But the war was not one-sided. Mortals, Alcanti, and Osprem fought with telling skill and strength, scything down the enemy much faster than it could replicate, while we held shields around it, starving it of dweomer. Slowly the toehold it had gained was eroded. Together we finally won, although it took nearly a hundred years before every last remnant was vanquished…and looked around at a world in ruins. Nearly half the sentient mortal population was dead, and the losses of other species, both plant and animal, were incalculable; some had been driven to extinction. The destruction of the works of men was heartbreaking too, especially the eradication of precious knowledge. Of the Alcanti, only 947 remained. Of the Free Men, 600 had perished, leaving the rest to try and defeat the Shadow in the southern hemisphere, left woefully unguarded with so many of the original defenders slain. The Loyalist's losses were slower but higher; between -515 and -418, 795 Alcanti were destroyed fighting the Shadow on the continent of Tamaranth and in the surrounding areas.
"As for the Shadow, only the most powerful magic had kept the comet intact; it was less than half its original size, and running out of precious volatiles. One more pass would finish it...one way or the other.
"Five hundred years after the eighth cometary pass Valverus returned. None too sane when he left, after over 150,000 years subjected to the raw dweomer of the Everflowing, he was raving mad: delusional--completely unable to distinguish fantasy from reality--and more megalomaniacal than ever. He knew the Truth, he was the Truth, and physical evidence had no importance, for was he not the One True God? He spewed his bilge upon the people of Tamaranth, and a small band of the primitive and credulous heeded his ranting, writing down his 'inspired word' and aggrandising him--and in consequence themselves as his chosen disciples. However, the response of the vast majority of people was indifference; those that did notice him and his smelly, ignorant followers, reacted with derision at best, hostility at worst. Valverus' rage knew no bounds. These puny mortals dared laugh at him, mock him, defy him? Valverus tried to smite them...and once again we stopped him.
"After billions of years of community and consensus, we have grown together so closely we literally can not act without unanimity, but we remain distinct, strong personalities. This is both a great strength and occasionally a severe weakness; it was unequivocally the latter in the case of the Comet: during the first, second, and even the third cometary pass the Shadow could have been exterminated, preserving Tamaranth from its deadly assaults, but we were not able to reach agreement that genocide was ethically defensible...and the Shadow was allowed to live. It likewise proved our undoing in our dealings with Valverus. We realised the threat he posed had to be neutralised, but as we considered possible courses of action, he rendered all our cogitation moot; he formed himself into a force barrier that encircled the whole planet. If he could not rule in solitary--and arbitrary--omnipotence, then no one could. Now any one of us can easily take down the barrier, but there is one major problem with that: the field is rigged to concentrate and project the power downward. The force necessary to destroy the barrier is more than enough to turn the surface of the world into a hellish inferno where no life could survive. Valverus' Orbs will have to be dismantled from below.
"And that's where we stand. The Shadow is more formidable than ever, Valverus has been shown the comet and has dismissed it as a puny dirty snowball that he can vaporise whenever he chooses...and we are facing a battle to the death with our hands tied. Bluntly, we need your help. All of you."
|Primary Motivators||Sense of Humour|
|Flexibility||Religion & Spirituality|
|Topics of Conversation|
|Quirks, Habits, & Oddities|
|Hobbies & Enjoyments|
|See http://rpg.ashami.com/ for reference|