By the time the ogrish civilization grew beyond the boundaries of the Heartlands, the rest of the skinchangers had become suitably alarmed by their strength. Even more alarming was the speed at which humans procreated—for though many of the parent skinchanger races produced litters, many others did not, and swiftly found themselves overwhelmed by the number of hybrids competing for their niche.
In particular trouble were the wolfish Pack Hunters, the ursine Growlers and the various birdfolk, all of whom found themselves at odds with the omnivorous humans. There was enough predator blood in humanity now to make them bold hunters themselves, and to coordinate like wolves, with the fury and tenacity of bears and the cunning of the birds-of-prey. With the encouragement of the ogres, the humans pushed their settlements into the wild-lands to claim new territory—which would of course be overseen by more ogrish lords and ladies, but which the humans would be more or less permitted to own.
After all, the ogres’ population had grown as well, and with it the feeling that the Heartlands were not big enough for all of them. While they were the most ideal—with their temperate climate and many lakes—there were other fertile and comfortable lands that the ogres could claim.
Chief among those were the rivers and swamps that lay in the shadows of the Varaku Tablelands, a terrain that the ogres had passed through on their way north to aid the skinchangers against the wraiths. Bordered by forests, grasslands and rolling hills, the swampland soon became the ogres’ favored place to send their misfits into genteel exile.
This was an exile in opinion only, for though the ogres sent to the swamp could not indulge their love of spacious architecture or flowing garments, neither were they oppressed by the increasingly stilted opinions of main ogrish culture. They could lurk and wallow and nap as much as they liked, and no one would turn up a snout at them.
Even better, in the southern reaches of the swamp they found their own inland sea: the Danarine, a massive body of fresh water rivaled only by the haelhene-haunted Atharine in the east and the briny, dying Rydine in the northeast. Its balmy climate meant that they need not fear winter, and they discovered a far greater bond to the spirits of earth, wood and water along its shores than they could find now in the densely-cultivated Heartlands. They also discovered entirely new types of skinchanger to breed into their pool of humans. Soon the Nazar Swampland and the Danarine Shore were the de facto centers of subversive thought in the ogrish empire, populated by shamans and explorers, experimenters and malcontents, deviants and geniuses.
Meanwhile, the humans spread throughout the hill-country and the grassland, funneling foodstuffs and material goods to the vine-wrought swamp cities and shoreline bastions of their masters. Beyond the Danarine and its swamps, the land swiftly grew too dry for ogrish comfort, so more and more the humans were left to their own devices except for a few overseers—real ogrish exiles—to make sure everything went according to plan.
Humanity’s spread put it in conflict with more of the predator clans: the many types of great cat, the scorpion-folk of Varaku, the vicious lizards of the south. Despite their lack of natural defenses, magic or contact with the spirits—as no ogre would teach a human the ways of the shaman, and humans beyond first-generation hybrids often had little knowledge of their skinchanger ancestors—the humans adapted to their foes’ tactics as they had learned those of the wolves and the bears, and held their frontier settlements tenaciously.
But though they could push into territory the ogres found distasteful, they could not escape the ogres’ servitors, whether mortal or spirit. Even hunters and foragers at the very fringes of humanity were hunted down by their ogrish masters’ sent spirits, to claim the tithe the ogres had decided all humans owed them for their existence. Many humans in the cities and swamps lived in luxury from the tithes their owners cast off, and had no interest in being free, but at the fringes the tide of opinion had begun to turn.
Into this delicate situation stepped several haelhene. While they could not influence the Heartlands—as their airahene brethren watched them too closely from the shadows of the Mist Forest—they had found a way to circumvent the forest by crossing the Atharenix Sea and flying over the Varaku Tableland. This gave them access to the uneasy fringes of the Danarine civilization.
At first they simply stole humans so they could dissect and understand these curious new creatures that had been wrought in their image. Some victims were returned in varied states of insanity, having been reassembled haphazardly or contorted into new forms, but most were never seen again.
After a while, though, one wraith decided that making monsters was boring. Making mages would be a much better way to strike back at the ogres and animals that infested the world.
To that end, the haelhene—called Kuthrallan Vanyaris—began to visit frontier outposts in the guise of a fellow human. It took a while for Kuthrallan to learn to act human enough to be accepted, and ‘he’ was run out of quite a few places before he finally managed to insinuate himself properly in a large town
Even then, with thousands of humans to choose from, he found himself disappointed by their intellectual capacity. The ogres, though they appreciated the arts in all their forms, had little interest in science or mathematics beyond the utterly practical, and even less about the higher realms or the nature of time or the flow of energies. They left most of that business to the shamans and spirits, neither of whom contemplated those as academic concepts. Likewise, they did not bother to school their humans in anything beyond the most rudimentary reading and writing and the domestic arts. While humans had plenty of skilled craftsfolk, nothing they did was approached systematically. It simply was.
Kuthrallan struggled for years to pare his own vast knowledge of the stars and spheres down to something he could communicate to a human. He gathered acolytes and taught them the basics of energy-handling—something that had been as easy as thought, back in the lighter realm of his origin, but which here required an intensity of focus that most humans could not sustain. Exasperated, he even coaxed them into chanting, or drawing symbols: anything that could help them concentrate on the task for which they had gathered their energies.
After far too long, he had a handful of proto-sorcerers who already thought that the chanting and the symbols were what allowed them to gather power, rather than serving as a crutch for their weak wills. Exasperated, he dispersed them to teach others, thinking that even this little amount of havoc could perhaps build to something if his students taught enough others. His new experiment, he decided, would be to open a human to the full perceptions of a wraith and see if perhaps that would make it easier to train them.
The experiment failed miserably. Kuthrallan went through hundreds of test subjects, using dozens of techniques, but all of them sent his humans screamingly insane the moment he unfurled for them the fourth, fifth and sixth dimensions that characterized wraithly magic. They simply could not stand to see the streams of time, probability and possibility laid bare over the dull realm they had once considered ‘reality’.
He was nearly ready to give up and return to the White Isle when he tried his newest technique on a blind woman—a servant in an ogrish household—and it worked.
Perhaps it was the blindness keeping her from being overwhelmed by all the new senses. Perhaps it was Kuthrallan’s technique, refined over nearly a hundred years. Or perhaps it was the woman herself: philosophical, temperate, gentle but not placid, abused many times and in many ways by her ogrish master but not embittered and nothing but loving toward her children, humans and half-ogres alike. Kuthrallan’s technique cracked her senses wide, and though her mind shuddered, she did not turn away from what she saw. Nor did she fight it. She just watched.
In the fourth dimension, she could see the linear progression of time: how her existence, and that of the world, would progress forward from the state it was currently in. The fifth dimension allowed her a view of probability—a widening of her view from a single linear future to an ever-widening plane of potential. And while those let her look forward and side-to-side into the ways the world could change, the sixth dimension allowed her to look up and down through dimensions: to see entire different realities, where divergence had happened too long ago for anything to be familiar.
And the woman—for she was eminently practical—fixed her gaze ahead and began looking side-to-side, to discover where things could go wrong and what she might do to fix them before they happened.
When she began prophesizing, Kuthrallan did not know what to do. This was not what he had intended; he wanted sorcerers that he could mold to his will, to spread throughout the ogrish civilization and blast it to bare stone on command. Instead, this woman was seeing what he planned and acting to prevent it—first by looking backward to see what he had already done, then by sending her children and her fellow servants, all of whom adored her, to warn their friends in other towns and those ogres they could trust about the wraith-touched in their midst. He thought to kill her, but within days she was surrounded by supplicants seeking some path of remedy for their current life-situation. Some advice, some touch of grace.
Still, he could have killed them all. He had more than enough power. But though his proto-sorcerers were being chased from their towns and hunted, he himself was in no danger, and as word of the woman’s visions spread, he started to think this could be entertaining. After all, she was only human. Her visions spread out infinitely, and looking in any direction was like peering through a kaleidoscope, trying to find the truth. Words could not contain the full path toward a desired future—each so fragile that a single missed step could destroy it. Language itself, lazy in the era of ogrish indolence, had not progressed sufficiently to contain all the shades of meaning, force or terror inherent in what she had seen.
And so Kuthrallan watched as she struggled to shape a new future through her voice alone, hands fluttering ineffectually to convey concepts and structures she could not name. Some of her petitioners became acolytes, worshipers, and began to record all that she said, but sometimes—especially when she viewed her children through the prism of her new vision—she could not bear to speak.
Her ogrish master was not pleased by any of it. Not that she had been of much use since her blinding—a punishment he had imposed upon her after she tried to stop him from ravishing another servant. It was common knowledge that the woman had borne him several half-blooded children, and his fellow ogres held him in low esteem for it. To have it seen that his household did not obey him, but clustered at her feet in adoration and often ran off to attend to tasks she had set them, would ruin him in the eyes of all his kin.
When she began speaking of the fall of ogrish civilization, he could not hold back.
Determined to show her for a charlatan and a madwoman, he had her dragged–along with all of her children–to one of the great amphitheaters for a spirit-interrogation and subsequent execution. The woman, who had come to be called Vrin gih Dha or ‘Truth Through Enlightenment’ by her followers, did not resist, and though her children wanted to struggle, she urged them to be calm and to simply wait, for they would know what to do when it was time.
The shamans and their spirits tested her, tormented her, tried to wring a confession of wrongdoing from her, for though they could see that there was something peculiar about her soul, they did not know what it was. Perhaps she did not either, because her halting answers made no more sense than some of her prophecies, and the ogrish nobles that had been assembled to watch the proceedings laughed heartily at her disordered speech.
When the question came about the fall of ogre civilization, though, she answered clearly. The empire had already swollen beyond its bounds, and would collapse in two stages: the Danarine westlands first, with its people driven into the cold north, and then the slow lingering death of the Heartlands as the humans and skinchangers slowly tore it apart. The ogre race would dwindle and mix its blood liberally with that of the humans, until ogres themselves hid in woods and tundra like the skinchangers they had chased away, leaving their hybrid progeny as just another facet of the human race. Only the ogres that had stayed in the far south would retain the nobility; all others would be broken upon a rack of ice.
This declaration so infuriated the gathered ogres that they demanded Vrin gih Dha be executed immediately. Her children protested, but her master raised his axe to do so.
Records are conflicted on what happened next. Some say that she was killed by that axe-blow, some that she dissolved into fire before it could strike, some that it hit and she was unveiled as a crystalline creature much like a wraith before shattering into a million shards. What no one will dispute was the flash of light that blinded everyone in the amphitheater—except her children and most devout followers, who had turned away at the moment of the strike.
The human uprising was born at that moment.