The Time of the Dark
The Dark. The very name synonym of terror. What exactly the Dark are, no one knows but what is known is that their touch is death. They are like blobs of black protoplasm that can go from the size of a man’s fist to the size of a barn in mere seconds. They smell of rotting blood and can strip a man of his flesh in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, they only take the mind, leaving a mindless automaton to die of starvation.
They come in groups, hidden by their magic and when in great enough numbers, can destroy anything in their path. No magic can touch them, no mind can communicate with them. Only partially physical, they can nonetheless be killed with a sword.
For a long time, they were thought to be merely legends, stories told to children to frighten them into obedience. Civilization had forgotten them and thought them long defeated.
Even their nests were no longer associated with them. Yet, they can be found all over the world, vast pavements of black stone and, in the midst of them, stair descending to the deepest heart of the earth. The stairs were always there. Representations of them can be found in the most ancient prehistoric hieroglyphs. No one ever went down them – at least, no one who came back up again – and no one knows who built them. Some said it was the titans of old or the earth-gods; old records speak of the places as being awesome, full of magic. For a long time, they were considered to be lucky, favored by the gods – the old religions built temples over them, temples which became the centers of the first cities of mankind.
All this was millennia ago. Villages grew to towns and then to great cities. The cities united; states and realms spread across the rich valleys of the Brown River, on the shores of the Round Sea and the Western Ocean, and in the jungles and deserts of Alketch. Civilization flowered and bore its fruits: wizardry, art, money, learning, war.
The Times Before
Records of the Old Kingdoms are so scarce as to be almost non-existent. Only beguiling fragments of chronicles remained, most were found in the Library at Quo, a teasing sliver of a civilization of great depth and richness, of sublime beauty and wisdom and truly foul decadence, a society that parented first wizardry and then the Church and the great codes of civil law.
It is certain that some kind of tradition existed then regarding the Dark Ones, simply because the word for them was in the language but they were only a vague rumor of shadow on the edges of the oldest legends – the misty memory of hidden fear. And if there was such a tradition, it did not connect them with the stairways themselves. So they remained, rooted in the abysses of time, an ancient mystery buried in the heart of civilization.
Then, 3000 years ago, the Dark One struck and nearly wiped out all the civilized peoples of the earth.
Of the destruction of the ancient world, no coherent account exists. It was known that it happened within a matter of weeks. It was also known that what struck, struck worldwide – a simultaneous siege of horror. But the horror and the confusion were so overwhelming that virtually no records were preserved; and since defense against the Dark generally entailed uncontrolled use of fire as a weapon, what little information might have been available was lost. It was simply known they came but the reason why is not.
Unable to fight, humankind fled and retreated to fortified Keeps, behind whose massive walls they led a windowless existence, creeping forth by day to till their fields and hiding when the sun went down. For three hundred years, absolute chaos and terror held sway on the earth, because there was no way of knowing where or when the Dark would come. Civilization crumbled, fading to a few glowing embers of the great beacon light it had once been.
And then, the Dark no longer came. Whether the cessation was sudden or gradual, it was not known for sure, for by that time few people were literate enough to keep to be keeping accurate records. Little villages had grown up outside the Keeps; in time, new villages appeared on the crumbling ruins of the ancient cities whose very names had been forgotten through the intervening years. There were wars and change and long spaces of time. Old traditions faded; the very language changed. Old songs and stories were forgotten. The memory of what the stairs were also forgotten.
The Rise of Nerath
In the time that followed, the Realm of Nerath rose and flourished in the northern part of the world. It was established by Dare of Renweth, Lord of the Keep of Renweth Vale and King of one of the old Kingdoms at the time of the first coming of the Dark. Growing outwards, its power grew until it controlled all the land from the Western Ocean to the Round Sea. Its cities grew, its people slowly relearned magic but never attaining more than a fraction of their former knowledge.
From the Western Ocean to the the Yellow River in the east, the Realm prospered. Despite the occasional border war with Alketch, the great cities of Nerath grew. From its capitol Gae, on the Brown River in the east to Dele on the shores of the Western ocean, the kingdom reestablished civilization within its borders and tamed the lands.
Of the bastions of magic of that time, the most powerful was the hidden city of Quo. A city founded by mages as a school to teach their Art, it stood unrivaled in magical knowledge and power. The Archmage of Quo was the head of their council and given the respect equivalent of an independent kingdom even though he was sworn to the King.
Warning of the times ahead
The line of the Kings of Nerath had a peculiar trait: they had partial memories of the first coming of the Dark Ones. Fragmentary and unfocused, they would remember events and people long gone. Endor Andorion, the Last King of Nerath had those memories and heeded them. When Ingold Inglorion, the greatest mage of the time and former Archmage of Quo warned the crown that the Dark were not defeated, Eldor’s father had him exiled. When Eldor inherited the crown, he recalled his former tutor and heeded his warnings.
The Kingdom of Nerath had begun investigating the possibility of the Dark still being a threat and began to take measures when, again, the Dark Ones attacked. Overnight, fear and confusion ruled the world. At first, only the Realm of Nerath was attacked. Tens of thousands died from the Dark and from the effects of the worst winter in memory. The following year, the Dark rose in Alketh and subjected the Empire to the same level of devastation as Nerath had known.
As refugees fled to the partially restored Keeps, the devastating effects of the invasion of the Dark were felt again. City after city were destroyed from within, attacked from below from the hidden nests long forgotten in their midst. Only the preparations of King Eldor gave succor to those few survivors of the destruction of Gae and, once again, the Keep of Dare, abandoned for hundreds of years and partially restored, filled with people and with Prince Altir, King Eldor’s sole heir.
Ingold Inglorion, in a bid to find a means to defeat the Dark, crossed the Kingdom with his apprentice Rudy Solis and traveled to the hidden city of Quo, to seek out the Archmage of Quo and his brethren. Having made the weeks log trip to the city and having found his way through the Walls of Air, the rings of spells and illusions that protected the city, he found it in ruins: the Dark had destroyed the city of the mages after having possessed the shaped-changed archmage Lohiro and used his knowledge to strike against the city from the nest hidden beneath the main tower of the city. Saving what lore he could from the ruins, Ingold returned to the keep defeated.
The Dark disappear again
Soon, however, the attacks of the Dark ceased. Legend holds that it was Archmage Ingold Inglorion who had found the solution and, somehow, defeated the Dark. The truth of the matter is not know for sure: are the Dark Ones really defeated or have they simply retreated back to their Nests, to wait for another civilization to grow.
What is known is that the Dark Ones no longer attacked and the various peoples of the earth were left to pick up the pieces and restore whet they could. Millions had died in the devastation and their civilizations lied in ruins.
The various races of the earth had all been subject to attack and all reeled from the onslaught. With the retreat of civilization, monsters returned to areas that had not known their presence in centuries. The road were no longer patrolled, all central governance disappeared and civilization was yet again reduced to a few points of light in a growing darkness.
The Current situation
It is now 100 AD (After the Dark) and what could be saved from the Second Kingdoms has been saved. King Eltir, heir to what remained of the kingdom of Nerath, now rules only the Brown River Valley from the newly re-established city of Gae. The generation that has known the Second Kingdoms at their height is all but disappeared save for a few dwarves and elves. Much knowledge has been lost but, slowly, the lights grow brighter and civilization begins to grow again. However, there are forces at work in the world that seek to stop the light and, even now, some of those lights gutter and fail as the wild powers that have been released by the Dark’s destruction of the world seek to wipe out what little is left.