From his crystal citadel in the realm of dreams, the wraithly demigod Daenivar watched the empires eye each other and saw within their suspicion an opportunity. He did not like any of them—not even his own former land, Lisalhan, for in his absence the power had shifted away from his priests and toward a council of mages who were all too friendly with Yezadra. Additionally, his brother’s cult was on the rise after the death of Szarnos the Bull, with many bull-folk turning to Rhehevrok’s brutal ways to seek revenge on the Death worshipers that had slain their spirit. Upon consideration, Daenivar hit upon a plan to enmesh all these lands in mutual destruction, and began in the empire he liked least: the Divine Protectorate of Altaera.
A passageway still remained between Daenivar’s abode and the physical world, situated beneath the plains of Altaera where the crystal ship Liunaitheia had been buried before Daenivar wrenched it into the dream-realm. Nightmarish creatures had been slipping through the gap ever since, inflicting trouble upon the plains-folk who passed by and encouraging them not to stay.
With his plan in mind, Daenivar reined his creatures in and summoned one of his priests to assume the guise of a follower of Vrin gih Dha. After traveling some distance through the Altaeran lands proclaiming that she would bless the site, the priestess then performed a false rite upon the ground and defeated a scripted assault by nightmare-creatures, thereafter declaring the land ‘free of the curse’. The Altaeran authorities—who had tried to settle, and then garrison, that land due to its fertile soil and potential threat—sent their own investigators but could find no trace of the nightmares, and thus recommended the area for immediate occupation.
Immigrants from Yezadra and refugees that Altaera had taken in from Lisalhan and the land now known as Xiroacer were among those first settlers shifted to this new area, and Daenivar found it easy to spread his influence among them—whether through whispers or nocturnal visitations by the more subtle of his creatures. As native Altaerans and Knights of Law began to swell the population, he took care to stay subtle, allowing years and then decades to pass as conditions along all borders remained tense.
Finally, cautiously, he began to influence the entire young city through dreams. Varin Tair, as it was called, was situated close to both the Lisalhan and Yezadran borders, and though it had agreeable dealings with those empires in daylight, by night it was plagued by fear of them. Phantasms stalked its streets in the form of Moon cultists and Rhehevrok thugs, and the dreams of all citizens featured dire magical threats.
Daenivar focused his attention most particularly on the military and the young folk, with the intention of driving them toward aggression against their neighboring empires. He also enjoyed adding dark suspicions to the dreams of gossips, and as his work left no visible mark—and made solid, if xenophobic, sense—neither the Knights of Law nor the priestesses of Vrin gih Dha caught on to him.
As the children he infected grew up, many of them joined the military and departed for distant posts. Others stayed in town, restless yet determined to guard their turf. In each of their minds, they carried one of Daenivar’s nightmares, which gnawed at them and urged them to spread their fears and suspicions to their fellows. Likewise, all military staff who were cycled through Varin Tair were infected, eventually spreading nightmares throughout the command structure.
It was only a matter of time before xenophobic violence sparked in Varin Tair. The diasporas from Lisalhan and Yezadra were large and close-knit, so as Altaeran youths began assaulting them, many of the immigrant youths fought back. The infected local guards cracked down on the immigrants rather than the Altaeran instigators, which in turn caused diplomatic tensions to rise between Altaera and its neighbors. As the nightmare-seeds spread further among the military that guarded the borders, incidents increased, and Daenivar tweaked his nightmare-servitors’ instructions on a case-by-case basis until he had created false cells of Death, Moon and Rhehevrok cults throughout southern Altaera, all under his control and plotting the downfall of the Divine Protectorate.
Meanwhile, in Lisalhan, he could be much more straightforward with his troublemaking. Though his empire had become a council, many of the councilors still paid lip-service to him, and many more had at least one nightmare-priest as an advisor. It was easy to stoke their fears about the violence against the Lisalhan diaspora, as well as exploit their paranoia about Death cults and Yezadran spies within their own borders. Under Daenivar’s rule, Lisalhan had already established a program of research for both offensive and defensive magic to be used against its neighbors, but as the phantom threat of Yezadra’s mages increased, so did the frenzy of study—and several attempted thefts of Knowledge’s Grimoires by the Lisalhanians.
Those attempted thefts alone would have drawn the ire of Yezadra’s Tome Cities, but Daenivar had his agents within that empire too, and worked through whispers to sow discord between the formerly-powerful Knowledge priests and the new regime of Sun and Moon. Even better, the Sun and Moon temples had divided themselves without his prompting and segregated nearly the whole empire by gender, allowing Daenivar to whisper ridiculous lies about each side to the other with little chance of them being called out as false. Unrest between Yezadra’s religions led to the increasing marginalization of Knowledge’s priests and, eventually, the confiscation of the Grimoires by the Sun and Moon temples—whose protections were not as great as those of Knowledge, allowing the Grimoires to be swiftly stolen.
As he could not claim the Grimoires without Knowledge potentially learning of his involvement, Daenivar instead had them planted throughout Lisalhan and Altaera—with the coveted Grey Grimoire of Yezadra’s capital, Rassevar, planted in Altaera’s capital of Ruyen Tairdren. Its presence was leaked to one of the more paranoid of the Divine Protector’s councilors, who—rather than return it immediately—began to consult it to learn what the empire’s enemies were doing.
Finally, in Xiroacer, Daenivar’s nightmares whispered to the jackal-folk of the border with the voices of Ravager and Guardian, declaring that the human empires had committed crimes even greater than Death’s necromancers and that the Great Spirits would forgive Xiroacer its misdeeds if they wiped the humans out.
Without Daenivar, war might have come anyway, but it would have been tentative and limited in scope due to the relatively equal strengths of the four empires. With his incitement though, diplomatic incidents mounted steadily between Yezadra and Altaera, Lisalhan and Yezadra, Xiroacer and Lisalhan, and Altaera and everyone, until the revelation of the Grey Grimoire in the hands of the Divine Protector’s council caused Yezadra to be the first to declare war.
What followed was chaos and madness, with Daenivar taking every opportunity to spread his nightmare infection and tweak vital military officials’ reactions away from compromise and toward paranoia and hate. Yezadra’s Sun and Moon temples fought separately, refusing to coordinate with each other; the Rhehevrok-worshiping berserkers of Lisalhan and Xiroacer mangled friend and foe alike; the Lisalhanian high council immersed itself in seeking a source of overwhelming magical power; the jackal-folk slaughtered every human they could catch; and the Altaeran military, which had long been known for its adherence to the Rule of Law, began to fall into brutality as the nightmare-infection clenched upon its ranks.
Only the followers of Vrin gih Dha—distributed as they were among all the empires, even Xiroacer—saw the pattern in the xenophobic rantings and frantic violence. They tried to ease tensions and even managed to banish a few nightmare infections, but those incidents were simple good fortune; they could not see the infecting phantasms and managed to cure their victims through rites of religious conversion without ever knowing what they had done. They approached the Knights of Law with their suspicions, but while the Knights agreed, there was likewise nothing they could do, for Law had no power over dreams or fears. Spreading the idea of Daenivar’s trickery had some power within Yezadra—especially once it was told to Knowledge’s priests—but war between Yezadra and Altaera undermined the Knights’ and priestesses’ attempts at stopping the violence and only caused the Sun and Moon temples to declare the Knowledge priests subversive.
Concerned, the Knights of Law began to ride with the Altaeran military just to keep them in line, but there were not enough Knights to cover every Altaeran company. Lay followers of Vrin gih Dha tried to do the same, but Altaeran women were limited to only a few types of military action—mostly as medics—and so those who wanted to be on the front lines had to sign on as men.
One such young woman was Breana, who signed on with an infantry company under the name of Brin. During an assault into enemy territory, her patrol captured a fleeing band of Lisalhanian civilians, and her commanding officer ordered them executed; Breana refused. In trying to rouse her fellow soldiers into disobeying, she revealed herself as a follower of the Hearth Goddess and appealed for peace, for mercy, for the rule of law and everything that Altaerans were supposed to hold dear. Several of her comrades were moved and came to support her. The commanding officer had them all executed along with the Lisalhanians.
Word of Breana’s plea and death spread among the ranks once the patrol rejoined the army, and despite her fate and that of the men who stood with her, others began to resist their orders. Many were executed by infected commanders or those who simply could not disobey, and increasing numbers began to desert. Cells of Law- and Hearth-followers formed within the Army and struggled to change the campaign strategy—to withdraw if possible and stop contributing to the chaos—and so many of them cited Breana as an influence that it garnered Vrin gih Dha’s attention.
As Breana was one of her servitors, Vrin gih Dha easily found the girl’s soul and infused her with divine power. Reawakened as a demigoddess of militance, protection and sacrifice, Breana reached out to those who would emulate her and gave them strength. As the movement against the war spread throughout Altaera, so did the two goddesses’ influence, and the nightmare-infected recoiled from their faithful. The Altaeran military began to shake itself apart.
If not for the infighting between the other empires, that might have been devastating for Altaera, but Lisalhan, Xiroacer and Yezadra were all too happy to fight each other. Xiroacer’s jackal-folk did harry the border they shared with Altaera, but as Altaera was well-walled and strongly defended in that area, even the generalized collapse of its military did not give the jackals an in-route.
Instead, Xiroacer tore into the Lisalhanian midlands while Rhehevrok’s berserkers and bull-folk slaughtered every jackal they could find. Lisalhan retaliated with mages of every type, turning the border between the two empires into a vast boneyard where the two sides’ necromancers struggled for dominance. Meanwhile, on the Lisalhan/Yezadra border, the temples of Sun and Moon ignored the protests of the mages and Knowledge priests and came after the Lisalhanians in revenge for Tatska’s rape, and the Lisalhanian mages fought back with everything in their arsenal. The landscape withered, blistered and burned beneath the torrents of magic sent back and forth, and the arid zones that had already existed within Yezadra’s borders started to experience desertification at frightening speeds—especially around the Tome Cities where much portal- and scry-based battle-magic was taking place.
As Altaera slowly shook itself free from the daze of Daenivar’s nightmares, it became clear to the Divine Protector and the Knights of Law that if the Great War was allowed to continue, Lisalhan—and great chunks of Yezadra and Xiroacer—would become wasteland. The area around the Danarine Sea was already dying; despite the territory’s fertility, the strain placed upon it by the vast tapping and expenditure of magic was killing its plant-life, draining its soil and wrecking its cities and wildlife. Refugees were lining up at Altaera’s walls again–now that the empire was no longer slaughtering them indiscriminately—and even the followers of Vrin gih Dha were hard-pressed to comfort and aid so many in distress.
This marked the first time that Vrin gih Dha and the Shadow God worked together, for Kherus Morgwi’s shadow-children appeared to the goddess’s priestesses in the shanty towns along the wall to offer aid for the refugees. Many of the refugees were from the Yezadran borderlands, which Kherus Morgwi considered his stomping ground, so the Shadow Folk offered to bring supplies and food and tents and even track down relatives for refugees to be reunited with so they would not have to stay in the camps. Though Vrin gih Dha had long considered Kherus Morgwi to be a dubious womanizing criminal sort, she could not turn down his offer, and the Hearth priesthood and the Shadow Folk became allies.
A further influx of refugees meant further tensions within Altaera, and further opportunities for Daenivar to renew his infection from its origin in Varin Tair. As the Hearth priestesses and the Shadow Folk evacuated the refugees into temporary villages in the Altaeran north, the nightmare-infected locals rose up against them. With the priestesses incapable of fighting, the Shadow Folk more inclined to vanish at the first sign of danger, and Breana’s followers not yet numerous enough to provide protection, the lives of all of the refugees were in danger—until the Muriae interceded once more. Coming down from the mountains, the House of Silver declared that they had been sent by their spirit, Brancir, to enforce peace on behalf of the absent Knights of Law and extend sisterhood to Vrin gih Dha and Breana.
Accepting the offer, Vrin gih Dha declared that she considered the spirit Brancir to be the equal of any deity—or perhaps greater, as Brancir still retained worldly power while the non-spirit gods could not interfere. The three forged an alliance then and there, with Vrin gih Dha taking on an Altaeranized name to become Brigydde, the Heart and Hearth of the Trifold Goddess, with Brancir as the Hammer and Breana as the Shield.
Meanwhile, Lisalhan was crumbling. While its feverish research into magic had borne devastating fruit, even that could not keep its fanatical enemies at bay, and its Rhehevrok berserkers had long ago slipped their leash. Daenivar’s minions kept moving the stolen Grimoires deeper into the empire, luring the Yezadran armies into destroying city after city; meanwhile, others of Daenivar’s cult had dispersed far and wide to hide themselves among the other empires and spread further infection. The Lisalhanian council withdrew to the center of the realm and warded every stone of its capital city, prepared for the end.
Then Daenivar whispered a last secret to his agents on the council—one he had learned from a nasty metal elemental. The secret of the stellar spires.
Long ages had passed since the children of Silver had raised the first spire to try to tap stellar energy, thus eliciting a strike by the Scouring Light that had blasted a third of the metal elementals into madness and death. Daenivar whispered of a modified version: not a spire but a portal, shorter-range but broader, that would allow the Lisalhanian council to tap power from a light weaker than the Scouring Light but still beyond their imagination. Seeing no other option, the Lisalhanian council embraced the idea and hastily began constructing the portal.
Daenivar took care to evacuate all of his loyal followers from Lisalhan before it was complete.
For when the portal opened, the Lisalhanian capital city and all of its occupants were incinerated by the blast, and raw stellar energy poured through the gap—then shaped itself into shining insect-monsters and began to spread.