The second empire to coalesce in the post-godswar age did not do so easily. Based in the hills and grasslands south of the Danarine Sea, it had been the domain of Loahravi the Blood Goddess before the pact was made, and in the wake of her abandonment the many warlords and their conquests and slaves swiftly fell to infighting.
It was upon these borders that the Divine Protectorate of Altaera slowly advanced, yet no warlord dared turn his attention to the Altaerans lest his fellows overrun his own position. Under the rule of Loahravi, there had been vicious competition amongst the warlords but none were allowed to completely destroy their rivals; the Blood Goddess valued the quantity of her brutes as much as the quality and often enforced the separation of warring clans. Without her strong hand, though, the influence of her ogrish ‘son’—the demigod Rhehevrok—took over, and he gloried only in destruction. His gleeful wrath unleashed the simmering tensions among the clans and threw all into chaos.
In this atmosphere of uprising and unrestrained conflict, the slaves that had been conquered or stolen from other lands in order to farm and manufacture what the clans needed to survive found themselves with no protection. The other gods’ influence had waned the same as Loahravi’s, so the cults of the gentler gods that had existed within Loahravi’s territory swiftly fell to Rhehevrok’s sword. Only Rhehevrok’s ‘brother’, the wraith-demigod Daenivar, retained any presence in the land, and he had to fight for every scrap of it.
Annoyed at being bullied by a brother he considered a lesser being, Daenivar concentrated on expanding both his influence among the downtrodden and his own personal power. He had no particular sympathy for the slaves and farm-folk but had seen something in them that he could exploit: their fear. What he promised those who followed him was not to take their fear away, but to make others fear them, and thus elevate them to a state in which all they truly had to fear was the demigod himself. For people who shuddered in the shadow of Rhehevrok and his clans of marauders, the offer was tempting.
Meanwhile, on the personal level, Daenivar sought to build alliances with other deities and with mages whose power and techniques he could add to his own. He reached out both to the Lady of Knowledge—who despised him but could not turn him down, as she was dedicated to enlightening all who asked—and to Surou the Dreamer, who initially wanted nothing to do with him. However, Daenivar promised Surou one of his former kin’s crystal flagships, and with it all the memories and visions of the wraiths’ world of glass that it contained, and Surou could not resist.
Only one wraith flagship remained unclaimed: Liunaitheia, the former abode of Darcaniel the Hunter, which had been buried by elemental action. It lay within the Divine Protectorate of Altaera, but as a demigod Daenivar could go where he pleased; even Law’s Knights could not keep him out. After a perilous descent into the chasm that held the flagship and a vicious running battle with the earth-, water- and metal-elementals that sought to keep him out, Daenivar found Liunaitheia and meshed with it, only to realize that he could not activate it; he lacked the key.
He dared not challenge Darcaniel for the key; as one of the caiohene captains, Darcaniel was close to a demigod himself, and had the backing of several beast-spirits and elemental dragons. Instead, Daenivar used the information he had gathered from the Lady of Knowledge and the various mages and from visiting Surou, and figured out how to phase the entirety of Liunaitheia into the Dream Realm. This left a planar scar in the cavern where the flagship used to reside, through which creatures could pass from the real world to the Dream Realm and back, and soon elementals were colonizing parts of the Dream Realm just as dream-creatures were beginning to infiltrate the Altaeran underground. Surou was not pleased by the breach of his realm, but he was thrilled to have Liunaitheia, so he extended to Daenivar some of his influence—specifically over nightmares and hallucinations.
With this new power, Daenivar returned to his brother’s lands and began building his own territory within them, populated by the downtrodden slaves and servants and the battered warriors who no longer had a place within the clans. He came to prospective agents in their dreams and offered them the opportunity to turn the tables on their masters—to strike terror in the hearts of the strong that had ruled them—and after so much cowering and bloodshed, many accepted.
And to his new priests, he gave the power to dominate through projected fear, to induce hallucinations, and to torment with inescapable nightmares. He also instated a rigid hierarchy, with all involved schooled not to use their new powers upon each other but to maneuver through cunning and shows of arcane prowess; the demigod’s gifts were only to be inflicted upon nonbelievers, particularly Rhehevrok’s thugs.
Slowly, invasively, Daenivar thus brought the warring clans to heel, snatching them out from under his brother’s nose and keeping those who persisted in worshiping Rhehevrok—which he allowed, as thugs did have their use—to a standard of behavior conditioned into them by continued nightmares. Though Rhehevrok raged unceasingly, he was not clever enough to counter Daenivar’s trick, and thus found himself relegated to the position of Daenivar’s lieutenant.
In this manner, Daenivar consolidated the empire that his mother had abandoned and stood fast against the incursions of Death’s cultists from the west, at the same time cultivating better relations with Knowledge’s former lands in the east. He and his priests made sure that the workmen and craftsfolk remained unmolested, that the cities flourished with art and innovation—however grotesque—and that the martial focus of his land would be on magic, not physical might. And he named the empire Lisalhan, Land of Visions.
Necromancers who wished a closer, more potent patron than Death began to flock to his land, along with other mages who practiced undesirable magics, inquisitive scholars and agents of Knowledge, elementals of the toxic metals, and even a few wraiths. It was Daenivar who discovered that some humans were psychically interconnected despite no longer belonging to a beast-spirit, and he—alongside Knowledge—worked to find these new ‘mentalists’ and hone their capabilities into something useful.
For Knowledge, that use was the creation of vast Weaves of information drawn from the memories of mentalists and accessed remotely by contact with a Weave link-up artifact. For Daenivar, it was the training of Inquisitors—mentalists who could force themselves into the heads of other humans and beastfolk, whether or not the victims had any psychic connectivity of their own, and make them obey the mentalist’s commands.
With his Inquisition, his priests and his power-hungry mages and necromancers, Daenivar had every intention of subjugating the known world to his will. Unfortunately, he still had a wild-card brother.
For he and Rhehevrok were not the only demigods active on Halci. Tatska the Night Wind and Iroliyale the Traveler—splinter-demigods of Moon-Shadow and Light respectively—found Daenivar’s activities to be dubious, and spent much time watching his minions at work. Likewise, Rhehevrok spent all too much time watching Tatska, and several times made advances upon her, which she always rebuffed. Rhehevrok would not take ‘no’ for an answer, so when he caught her spying on him, he did not ask permission.
His rape of Tatska brought Iroliyale screaming down upon his head—and, shortly thereafter, the wrath of both the sun and the moon. Moon-Shadow refused to shine on Lisalhan; Light shone all too brightly, scorching crops and drying rivers and lakes; and Iroliyale, once he had seen Tatska to safety, worked tirelessly to wreck every caravan, campsite and crossroad in the empire. Rhehevrok responded by gathering his loyalists and attempting to recapture Tatska, who was now in Knowledge’s territory, sparking a firestorm of border disputes and even threats of war.
Daenivar tried to control his brother and convince the other gods and demigods that he had no part in Rhehevrok’s behavior, but Rhehevrok and his berserkers would not be contained—not even by nightmares, as Rhehevrok had become so wroth that no mind-trick could touch him. With his erstwhile ally Knowledge turning her back on him, Daenivar decided to plead to the rest of the gods—particularly his mother—to lock his brother up as a menace.
Unfortunately for Daenivar, the gods thought differently. They had seen how Daenivar had expanded his personal influence and were wary of him, and his mother Loahravi wanted to knock him down a peg. The gods decreed that from then on, demigods would also be bound by the gods’ nonintervention pact, and could neither rule a mortal realm nor interfere directly with each other. Iroliyale would not be able to retaliate against Rhehevrok; Rhehevrok would not be able to pursue Tatska; and Daenivar would be stripped of his crown.
In addition, a new stipulation was added: that even when the gods or demigods were intervening in an approved way (other than through their priests), the earthly powers such as the beast-spirits and elementals could at any time tell them to stop and they would have to comply. In this way, the gods hoped to not have to spend eternity policing each other, and to also allow the native powers some feeling of control over their increasingly infiltrated existence.
Iroliyale and Tatska took the news reasonably well, though both also vowed never to bless a road or caravan in Lisalhan again. Rhehevrok continued to rage unabated even as he was dragged from the material world into his mother’s realm.
Daenivar, meanwhile, passed his crown down to the most assiduous of his students and departed for Surou’s realm to further his studies—and to use Liunaitheia as his own private base of operations. Surou permitted this; he only desired it for its memories and was often lost in his own fancies, giving Daenivar all the space he needed to plan revenge on his wretched brother and the rest of the restrictive gods.
The empire of Lisalhan continued to rise in power, with a court known for its vicious intrigue and spectacular fetes and a military known for its utter barbarity. And every night, Daenivar whispered orders to his priests from his nightmarish crystal citadel, and his influence slowly spread.
Next: The First Empires, Part 3: Yezadra
I keep wanting to diagram this and make sketches. dang.