Second Mortal Epoch
The Second Mortal Epoch, also known as the Ankyrean Age, began with the founding of the Ankryean Order, and ends with the Grand Artifice.
The Ankyrean Order
Created as living vessels of knowledge intended to spread civilization about Aetolia, the Ankyrean Order stood as the perfect examples of mortals. Their capacity for knowledge was overwhelming; their libraries rivaled the libraries of the Gods Themselves. They housed themselves in the Citadel of Spinesreach, far away from mortal outposts. Founded in the first year of the Second Epoch of Mortality, this age is thusly called 'The Ankyrean Age'. By the end of this Epoch, the Order was basically annihilated by the treachery of its members, and today only one Ankyri remains.
On one hand, the Ankyreans were mortal, and typically lived the same life span that your average mortal did. On the other hand, to a normal mortal the Ankyreans seemed perfect. They were superior in intellect, in hunting, and in their spiritual devotion to the Gods. In exchange for this unwavering loyalty, the Gods looked benevolently down upon them, showering them with blessings and favors.
The relationship between the Ankyreans and the rest of the mortals was precarious at best. In their language, the Ankyreans referred to the other mortals as 'rellyw', which also translates into Aetolian as 'pet'. In fact, it was a common and spiteful insult in the Order to accuse someone of loving a 'rellyw'. The derision displayed towards their inferiors once caused such bitter feelings that it resulted in a failed invasion of the Citadel.
The Order itself is made up of five Conclaves, each responsible for its specific realm. The Conclave of Seers oversees the entire Order, and ensures the harmony of the various working parts of it. With the Ankyrean language, each member of this group was addressed as 'Dhasan'. The Conclave of Magic, on the other hand, researches the aspects of Magic that affect the world, and the method through which the Gods grant Magic to mortals. The Conclave of Devotion deals with the various devotional duties of the Ankyreans; they are responsible for the elaborate ceremonies to honor each of the Gods. The Conclave of Science and Nature handles the study of the world as it was created, and have a particular affinity towards the animal life of the continent. Finally, the Conclave of the Arts is charged with the study of the creation of things, whether it is weapons, artifacts, or mere poetry.
The head of the Order, who sits on all five Conclaves in a honorary fashion, is known as the 'Ard-Dhasani' in the Ankyrean language.
The Second Ankyrean War
Habbak looked out across the assembled Order with a sigh. It was indeed rare that nearly the entire order would come together, but it was a grave matter that brought them here. The rash departure of the former head of the Conclave of Magic Yrtez had left the Order abuzz and the moral implications had left the Conclave of Devotion fuming.
The floor had been yielded to the Dhasan Ghetri, who spoke the angry tones of her Conclave. "This is an abomination! We must live our normal mortal lives, in the fashion the Gods saw fit to create us. This perversion cannot be allowed to go on..."
"The Gods led us to this gift! All inspiration is given to us by the Gods. Did you not claim that yourself?" interrupted Erand, a member of the Council of Magic and a long time supporter of Yrtez.
Habbak was forced to ring the bell that stood on his podium to stop the interjection, but he could not bring himself to be enthusiastic about it. This debate had run for days with no resolution, and neither side was making headway. He could barely bring himself to pay attention, much less separate two factions that would clearly never agree. Many years back, Chakrasul had hinted to the Conclave of Magic the means to extend their life indefinitely. Many had pursued this research, feeling that since they were better than the 'rellyw' they should live well beyond the years of them.
Yrtez, realizing there was merit in the initial testing of this method, quickly decided to undergo the rite herself. With the research that the Conclave of the Arts had been doing into the grammar and vocabulary of Kalsu, she was confident the true incantations had been discovered. She had some hesitation though, and had come to Habbak with her reservations. Habbak had counseled her against the rite; even if the testing indicated that it might work, was it truly moral to do so? Yrtez was headstrong, however, and refused the admonition.
The reservations were reasonable. All the tests so far had made the patient mindless, or at best, severely lacking the majority of their former mental facilities. The most recent patient had taken up a new name after the experiment, and now lived among hordes of undead far away from Spinesreach. Although Habbak was mildly curious about this new behavior, he simply could not risk losing the best mind among the Dhasani. He had ended the conversation with her by outright refusing her request to do this, and she had stormed out of the room.
After that, she never returned to the Conclave of Dhasani again. It was rumored that she had taken up residence in a castle to the southeast of Spinesreach surrounded by dangerous fens. With her, the majority of the Conclave of Magic had gone, leaving the Conclave of Sages feeling empty and very angry.
Her departure occurred almost a month prior to the long debate in the Conclave. It would be unfair to blame her for this rift in the Order; it was a problem that underlaid the superiority philosophy that had been inbred into the Order for many, many years. Habbak himself did not believe in that philosophy, but trying to argue that was a lesson in futility.
The fighting began a few days later. The Conclave of Magic had become more secretive since their departure, and in an unprecedented move, they placed glyphs and wards about their chambers to protect against those who would steal their knowledge. Ghetri, the head of the Conclave of Devotion, still fuming from the days of constant deliberation, strode into the chambers, either unafraid or too headstrong to avoid them. Within seconds, her body began to shudder, convulsing with boils that swirled across her skin and caused horrific pain. Within a minute she was dead, her flesh rotting on the floors of the Central Spire.
The rest of the Conclaves were appalled; never before had anyone hidden their knowledge from the Order. Even without the death of Ghetri, this was a bold and obnoxious move on part of the Conclave of Magic; with the wards, it was downright treason. As a group of the Conclave of Seers moved in to deal with the threat, they were met by an angry group of those loyal to Yrtez. None survived the encounter.
Habbak suffered from the inability to make a decision of what to do. The Conclave of Magic had gone too far, but he could not let them all die under the strength of the other Conclaves. He sent a messenger to Yrtez, pleading with her to come back to the Conclave of Dhasani and reconcile their differences. The only part of the messenger that returned were his testicles.
The next blow to come to the Citadel occurred a few days later. Fighting had sporadically broken out, particularly when Ankyreans travelled away from the fortress. Quite a few never returned, either joining the side of Yrtez or being killed defending themselves. In addition to the Ankyri who never returned, Defenders of the Spires, the Syssin, were abandoning their posts. The head of the Syssin, Champion of the Five Spires, came to Habbak, worried that her troops were being somehow brainwashed by the likes of Yrtez. There had been infighting between the troops, resulting in more than one death.
This was troubling to Habbak. If the Syssin were being controlled from afar, it could easily turn sour on the loyalist Ankyri who used the Syssin as bodyguards. It was not a chance Habbak could take; so, just a few months before the complete demise of the Ankyrean Order, Habbak made the fateful decision to disband the Syssin, and ordered them to leave the City of Spires. With a heavy sigh, the last Champion of the Five Spires did so, and the fortress was left vulnerable to physical attack.
The weeks passed with attacks and kidnappings of quite a few of the remaining Ankyreans. There was never a direct attack on the Citadel; instead the Order would wake up in the morning to discover another member missing and never to be seen again. Mortals had spread rumors of a dark cloud over the castle of Yrtez, and their unwillingness to come within miles of it. Fear had spread over the Order, and Habbak faced a difficult task of keeping peace within the Citadel.
Then suddenly at dawn one day, the sun never rose. The darkness that had stolen over the lands as dusk fell remained like a foul blanket on the continent. Immediately the mortals became frantic. Some began to riot and pillage, destroying villages and thieving and looting. A few approached the Citadel, angry and demanding answers for this unnatural act.
Habbak had no answers. The balance of the day had been destroyed. The Conclave of Science and Nature was immediately called upon to research this horror, and restore the sun to its rightful place. Their discovery was foul; great monuments once built by the Conclave of Arts had been perverted. In the past their purpose was to mark the passage of the day. Now the former Conclave of Magic had altered them to determine its length.
While the night remained on the continent, the kidnappings increased, and fear grew rampant in the Order. Some began to suspect each other, and accusations began to fill the normal business of the Order. But Habbak pushed the entire Order to discover whatever they could to reverse the darkness.
Finally, in what was probably the single clear victory of this war for the loyalist Ankyreans, one of the members of the Conclave of Arts was witness to the ritual that kept the darkness upon the world. Using this knowledge, the Order was able to come up with a counter ritual, and after a few months of darkness, the sun rose once again on the world.
When it did, however, the world was in shambles. The majority of plant life had wilted and died. Most of the major cities stood wrecked, and towns were completely burnt to the ground. Mortals hid in caves and were practicing cannibalism. Animals had died from starvation in the devastation. Aetolia would never be the same. This war of the Ankyreans was affecting the entire world.
The Order petitioned to the Gods to assist them. Lanos was unforgiving for their transgressions into the dark magic, even if now they were fighting against it. The other Gods had never shown interest in the ways of the Ankyrean Order. Only Severn, the pitiful God, paid them any attention. He urged them to utilize their recent victory against the rebels, and gave them knowledge they desperately needed: the transformation they had undergone did not allow them to walk into the sunlight.
Severn petitioned His brother Arion to assist the Ankyrean Order in what would turn out to be their final battle. Arion acquiesced, only on the price of a future favor from Severn. Working with the remaining few members of the Order, they devised a plan to wipe the scourge of rebels from the land.
One young member of the Conclave of Arts, Qeddwyn, was to proceed into the castle where Yrtez had made her new home, and steal the artifact that allowed this transformation to occur. He had accepted this fate unwillingly: it had been a matter of drawing straws and Qeddwyn had definitely not won. If all went well, the theft of the artifact would prevent the creation of more of these creatures, and the tide could begin to ebb.
The trip was treacherous, however. Qeddwyn faltered a number of times on his journey to the keep in the fens. It was only the presence of Severn who silently walked with Qeddwyn that kept him on task. As he approached the veil of darkness that shrouded the keep, Severn appeared to Qeddwyn, and told him of the futile task he was about to undertake. The task would lead to the downfall of the Order, Severn said. It had to be done, to stem the tide of these monstrosities; but the result would be the end of the Ankyri.
Frightened by the words Severn spoke, Qeddwyn considered fleeing from the Order, and never returning to the Citadel again. For if he did nothing, someone else would take the mantle of this task upon their shoulders, and perhaps this fate could be averted. But the stern look in Severn's eyes told him otherwise. Gathering his pack, Qeddwyn moved into the veil of darkness.
The world inside was horrific. Warped trees and foul smelling swamps greeted him at every turn. He pressed on with only an ounce of confidence keeping his feet moving foward. At times he had to defend himself from foul leeches and massive snakes that sought to feed on the fresh prey. When he finally made his way into the castle, he wandered for days looking for an entrance into the inner lair where Yrtez made her home.
Finally, one day while resting his eyes momentarily, a group he recognized as rebels approached him, unaware of his presence there. He sat quietly in the shadows as they manipulated a hidden lever on the wall and moved through a rapidly opening passage. Collecting his belongings, Qeddwyn moved into the passage before it closed behind him.
Inside was a sumptuously decorated banquet hall where many of the rebels dined unaware of Qeddwyn's presence. He slowly moved in passages hidden behind curtains, attempting to remain unseen. Elaborate floors of rooms passed under his feet as he would sprint through some passages, and walk quietly in others. He was extremely uncertain how he would ever exit this place once he got his hands on the artifact. Completely lost and alone, he nonetheless found the courage to continue on his task.
Qeddwyn stumbled into a room with no exits that was shrouded in darkness, his footsteps clattering on the floor. Looking quickly around himself to make sure no one was aware of his presence, he sat down with his back against a wall. But, immediately he realized he was mistaken. A voice sang out across the room.
"Qeddwyn, my dear. How long has it been? Have you come here to join us?", Yrtez's voice echoed across the dark room.
"Yr-Yr-Yrtez...I did not know you were here. I have come to plead with you to stop this insanity. Please, rejoin us. We must remain as one and not bicker like the 'rellyw'."
Laughter sounded out around the room. "Do not call me that anymore, Qeddwyn. You are the mortal now, the 'rellyw'. I live on forever."
"But, none of the experiments worked, they hurt those who tried them..."
"Yes, they did not work at first. But Severn showed us the true phrases, the true language, needed to be given immortality."
"He couldn't have. You lie! Severn has sent me here to end your scourge!"
The laughter rang out once again. "Has He now? I believe you have been mistaken. Severn sent you here because the Age of the Ankyreans is over. The age of my kind is now beginning. He was simply accelerating what needed to be done."
"You lie; you have always twisted words to your own devises."
"I lie? Very well, believe that. What is it you came here for? Be honest, or I shall kill you now."
"The artifact; the thing that Chakrasul gave you to create yourselves." Qeddwyn could feel he no longer had control over his mind or his mouth. The words flowed freely as if he actually desired to tell her these things.
"The artifact you shall have, and I shall send you on your way. It is of no use to me. If this is the only way you will see the truth, then so be it. We have discovered powers beyond your dreams, Qeddwyn. It is folly for you not to join us."
And then a darkness swept over Qeddwyn's mind.
Qeddwyn awoke many days later in his own bed many miles away in Spinesreach. He could not remember what had happened after his encounter of the one formerly called Yrtez. He had somehow arrived back with the artifact in his hands mumbling to himself. The Order had called it a victory. No longer would these rebels convert themselves into their hideous forms.
When Qeddwyn gained his strength back, he strode to the Spire of Artifice to commune with Severn, who had betrayed him and the Order.
Qeddwyn screamed aloud, "You played us, Severn! You tricked us." His shouts echoed across the stone. When no response came, he began to kick at the shrine in front of him, his anger consuming him.
"Mortal, do not show disrespect to Me. You will not like the results." The shadowed form of Severn appeared before him.
"I demand to know what You are up to!"
"You make demands of a God? Qeddwyn, you are very fortunate I like you."
Qeddwyn regained his composure as well as he could before responding. "Lord, she claimed you said the Age of the Ankyreans is over. You gave her the power to end our Order."
"I did do as much, Qeddwyn. I told you as much as well."
"But now they will rule; you have seen what havoc they did to the world. Why would you allow that?"
"I did not say they would dominate the land. I let them assume that. Their order shall wither, much like the Order of the Ankyreans should wither."
"But why?" Qeddwyn began to sob.
"It must occur for the world to continue. The Ankyreans have become apathetic to mortals, when their purpose was to bring enlightenment to them. Those led by Yrtez have sought to transgress against the Gods with their actions. Both sides have erred."
Severn continued, "Both will be destroyed soon, Qeddwyn. I advise you to use that knowledge for what is it worth, and to leave the Citadel. Arion's plan will succeed, but it will have consequences that are unforeseen."
The next evening saw the rebels move into the Citadel quickly, and without obstruction. After all, that was the plan. The rebels had been enraged by the theft of their artifact, something that had become almost sacred. Moving swiftly, and as a group, they entered the Citadel to put an end to their once companions and now enemies. Once they moved into the Central Spire, a group of Ankyreans sealed the passage behind them, trapping both Orders together in that tower.
Using the magic that had been taught him by the Gods, Habbak called upon the spirit of fire unborn to purify the Spire of the transgressors and unknowingly the end of his Order. For, where the pure light ripped apart and destroyed the rebels, the true flames seared the flesh of the loyal Ankyri. Within a second, all within the Central Spire were annihilated. The strategy had worked, but at the cost of the entire Order.
The Grand Artifice
Severn, having been defeated time and time again by His opponents in the Garden, sulked yet again. His pride was destroyed, His creations ruined, and His essence was rapidly depleting. The Ankyrean Order which He led to its destruction only contained one final member, Qeddwyn the Wise. As the pair looked down over the Citadel from the walls of Spinesreach, Severn turned to Qeddwyn whom He had grown to like.
"You shall chronicle this one day, Ankyri," the raspy voice of Severn echoed throughout the young man's mind.
"It is too horrific to bring to light! You let them kill each other, you intentionally let them...." Qeddwyn was cut short by the Divine's voice.
"I let them? Man was given free will many years ago by the Creator. You saw what was happening, why did you choose not to stop it?"
Qeddwyn stood staring aghast at the shadowy figure's form. "I trusted You! You taught us much, You showed us the secrets of the Gods! I obeyed, because You said it was a means to an end. A required end!" His voice quivered with fear and pain.
"So you did, My dear Qeddwyn. So you did. Loyalty is a virtue shown in this age by very, very few. Even My Brother left Me for His experiments. But your loyalty shall be rewarded, for you shall be he who chronicles the history of this age. And did you not want to be head of your Order? I would daresay you now stand a head above the rest!"
"I don't want to write about this! I am ashamed of my actions, and I am ashamed of what has been done here." Breathless sobs heaved from his frame. "The Order is nothing. It is gone."
It cannot be said that Severn is without compassion, for He looked on Qeddwyn with pity; it seemed Qeddwyn's failure was His own. He looked far to the Tree of Life near which the Garden sat peacefully. Anger welled in Him at His losses in the Second Mortal Epoch, and at His Brother, Lanos, who sat at Varian's side most favored.
"I wish these images were never in my head! These thoughts of betraying my own Order...I wish I never knew it happened." Continuing his rant, Qeddwyn began to rub his hands violently across his scalp.
Inspiration filled Severn at that moment as He heard the words spoken from this mortal. "I shall grant you this request, though I shall maintain all the promises I have given you in the past. Yet, you shall not remember that it was you who asked this last boon."
Qeddwyn looked on with wide eyes as Severn began to mumble an ancient incantation, His voice echoing off the horizons. In response, the farthest skies began to shimmer, darkening and lightening simultaneously. The distant forms of mountains changed quickly into forests and lakes and oceans distant, the environs changing form as the shimmering swept over them. The shimmering drew closer and closer and as it approached the mountains above the Citadel, Qeddwyn drew himself close to the robes of Severn, huddling for protection.
"Please...I don't know what You are doing...Please stop..."
Severn looked down on Qeddwyn, as the shimmering hit the first major mortal settlement, now known as Ashtan. The citizens sat in their houses at twilight, not knowing their immediate fate. As the shimmering passed over each, it absorbed their memories, and in its place left a history Severn had chosen. A history in which His losses were forgotten, and which erased the errors of the past Epoch.
The shimmering had a similar effect on the other mortal centers as it passed over them; in each person's memory the history of the ages was replaced with the lies of Severn. The shimmering replaced His failures with a non-history in which mortals knew nothing of their past lives.
As the shimmering began to approach the Garden, Severn let out a groan for His trial was yet to begin. The shimmering approached the top of the Vashnars, and as it neared the Gods lounging unknowing, He hestitated in advancing the curtain further. Already He had reshaped that which the Creator had created; it was an artificial copy that mimicked a natural creation. If Varian learned of this mutiny, it would throw Severn into further disfavor with the Celestine.
But He pressed on, and history was changed forever. The shimmering passed over each of the Gods and forced them to believe Severn's magic. Only Varian, sensing the threat to His Creation, sat by unaffected knowing what was occuring.
The shimmering continued its advance across the world, and slowly began to gather around the valley surrounding Spinesreach. "You must do one more thing for Me, Qeddwyn. It is for your own good," the voice of Severn rasped.
"Lord, why have you reshaped the world? You shall surely be struck down!"
"Qeddwyn, there is not time, nor do I have the power to undo this act. Move to the Citadel, and seal its doors. If you were to find the Citadel after I finish My work, My Grand Artifice, your mind would surely become mad."
The eyes of Qeddwyn looked on the strain tormenting Severn as He held the shimmering away from the Citadel; without looking in front of him, Qeddwyn began to run straight towards the Citadel, whispering the words of sealing that the Order Head had once taught him. As he approached, the gates began to creak and shake and slowly they rumbled shut, sealed for the second time in their history, and as far as Qeddwyn knew, the last.
His speed too great, Qeddwyn was unable to stop himself from running into the closed gate with a solid thud. But at the same moment he struck the gate, the shimmering passed over him, the last mortal under the spell of Severn's desires.
Severn collapsed, His form and essence exhausted from the effort. Looking up at His new creation, He saw the rumbling visage of the Creator fast approaching.
"SEVERN..." the voice of the Creator boomed in His head, driving Him to grovel on His belly.
"Do not kill Me, Father! You know not why I needed to do it..."
"I do indeed, Severn. You have recreated what I once created perfect, and set in place a new imperfect vision of the world. Do You realize the implications of what You have done?"
"Father, I had need to do it..."
"For your acts, I shall brand you the Artificer, for trying to duplicate the World I created, and driving the mortals to their doom. The mortals shall know of Your treachery to Your own kin, and shall learn that Your creations are imperfect and falsifications of true Nature."
And thus He is called to this day. His failures drove Him to an act of desperation to redeem Himself, and for it He was reviled by the Creator. His actions caused mortals to learn a false past, and to prevent them from learning the truth.
But now the Truth returns.