After the Seals and the sinking of Lisalhan, the Ravager and Guardian parted ways. The Guardian said that it was because of the Ravager’s choice to possess Kuthrallan and its subsequent ‘wraithification’ and reliance on arcane magic, while from the Ravager’s point of view, the Guardian had abandoned it to the wrath of the elements. Neither would apologize, and so they separated to give the reconstruction what aid they could.
First they tried to deal with the natural-disaster threat, but while the Guardian had some influence with the Earth and Water primals, the Ravager had no such luck in soothing the Fire primal. The Portal entity had bored a hole deep enough into the mantle that the imprisoned Fire had been awakened by its glow—only to be doused with the deluge that followed the sinking of the land. With its potential exit route now underwater, the Fire primal was as trapped as ever and in no mood to be placated. Volcanic activity would not cease, so the Ravager was forced to turn to the Air primal for assistance in corralling the ash-clouds, lest all life be smothered out. It managed to get the Air primal to promise to pack the airborne ash tight so that it would fall as pebble-hail rather than a smothering blanket, and though this cleared the sky and let sunlight return, no one thanked the Ravager for it.
With the main crises dying down, the Great Spirits turned their attention to the mortal realm. The Guardian confined its efforts to the wild areas, where no mage-hunters or angry humans would find it. Its concern was more for the skinchangers and beast-folk tribes anyway, as it considered the humans and their civilizations to be another wraith-influenced aberration.
In contrast, the Ravager hid itself in the cities, using the chaos and upheaval as both cover and hunting-ground. Despite having been slain, the wraith Kuthrallan remained a strong influence on it—one that none of its subsequent hosts could match—and between the Ravager’s native desire for dominance and Kuthrallan’s fixation on arcane experimentation, they body-hopped regularly as each new host’s behavior drew the attention of the fledgling Silent Circle.
Or, it should be said, they were executed repeatedly, for the Ravager was still bound into its hosts until their deaths. Kuthrallan was determined to preserve the recently-outlawed arcane practices of necromancy and battle-magic, so the Ravager often possessed those who were already condemned—and even some who were already standing at the gallows. The regular influx of frightened new souls and death-experiences put the Ravager off-kilter, and for a time it seemed as if the dead wraith was the true power behind the spirit.
Much of their work occurred in the remaining Tome Cities of Yezadra, as those were where the majority of the Lisalhanian mages had fled. The nightmare-mages and necromancers were all being put to death, but so too were some of the Tome Cities’ own seers and fleshcrafters, for their talents’ superficial resemblance to the outlawed arts. In addition to devouring all the condemned Yezadran and Lisalhanian mages it could, the Ravager also made several attempts on the remaining Grimoires, but all were rebuffed; security had clamped more tightly than ever before upon the precious tomes, as several had been lost during the disasters of the Sealing.
At last, the authorities began to catch on to the Ravager’s presence and plans, and the Silent Circle tried to set traps for it. Drunk on forbidden knowledge, the spirit nearly fell into a few, but Kuthrallan’s influence broke it free, for no human magic could hold a wraith—even a dead one.
Regardless, they knew that Yezadra was no longer safe for them, and Kuthrallan feared to flee into his first choice of refuges: the dream-infused land of Shangal, which had been torn asunder by the Sealing but continued to thrive as foggy islands on a placid sea. It was the former realm of Surou the Dreamer, and thus open to the nightmare-demigod Daenivar’s influence. No matter how much Kuthrallan wanted him dead, he would not dare challenge him in one of his places of strength.
The other option was the tribelands of the northeast, which had been cut off from the west by the rising of the Rift but otherwise suffered little. Though the population was more to the Guardian’s liking—consisting heavily of beast-folk, skinchangers and their close human kin—the Guardian was not there, as its time and attention were being spent on the devastated Border Forest and the bewildered jackal-folk of Xiroacer.
Additionally, the northeastern tribal lands were surrounded by wraith territory: the Forests of Night and Mists, the Accursed Thornland of fallen Tirindain, and the White Isle in the Atharine Sea. Both the Ravager and Kuthrallan desired revenge on the wraiths that had refused to aid them, and so they migrated to dwell for a while among the bird-folk in the northeastern highlands.
In that age, the tribelands were five separate kingdoms: Sesen of the Snake, Anan of the Crane, Nurin of the Bear, Kiren of the Fox, and Tevin of the Eagle. Though each kingdom was dominated by the tribe from which it took its name, it also housed other tribes with populations sometimes more numerous than those of the royal. Though they all traded with each other, none of them really got along, and the borders fluctuated regularly.
Most aggressive were the Eagle tribe of Tevin, who traced their lineage to the eagle-spirit Senket and believed it to be their destiny to rule over all the lands. They were sometimes aided and sometimes opposed by the major common-tribe in their territory, that of the Wolf, which found them overbearing and arrogant but also far-sighted and capable. The wolves themselves did not want to rule, they wanted to raid their neighbors, and the eagles’ warlike ways gave them plenty of opportunities.
Tevin began making Imperial overtures to the other tribal kingdoms soon after the end of the Sealing disasters. Though no immediate part of that area had been damaged, the Great Swamp that had separated the northeast from Shangal had been flooded into oblivion, ending their minimal cross-trade. Sailing the Atharine Sea was impossible because of the wraiths of the White Isle, who destroyed all ships and captured or killed all sailors who dared venture too far from shore. With no accessible neighbors, the king of Tevin rightly believed that the kingdoms would be at each other’s throats worse than ever, and he planned to head off such behavior before it could start.
Kiren, as usual, told him to piss off; the Fox King and his advisors from the tribe of the Crow had no love at all for the tribe of the Eagle. Anan’s response was lukewarm; fishermen and farmers mostly, the people of the Crane and the Hare were not opposed to being protected by Tevin’s might but feared its potential depredations. Sesen’s ruler sneered and prepared for the war she knew would come; her lands and Tevin’s had long been locked in feuds, and neither the Snake nor the Badger tribe was willing to yield. Lastly, the Bear King pondered the proposal but politely declined on the advice of his Owl tribe advisor, ignoring the fury of his other advisor, a Hawk.
The Ravager, intrigued by the brewing war, tried to pick a side but could not. As the spirit of predators, it approved of many of the tribes, with only the placid Anan folk and the disrespectful Kiren earning its disdain. The Fox and Crow spirits had both separated from the Great Spirits early on and were now independently powerful, and their people acted that insouciant part.
Even if it could not decide which kingdom to back, the Ravager had plenty of purpose in the northeast, for the surrounding wraiths had grown bolder—or perhaps more desperate—since the Sealing and had stepped up all of their activities. The Ravager flew regularly to intercept haelhene raiders from the White Isle, and alternated between eating the wraiths it caught and flinging them into the Accursed Thornland as a method of appeasing the Thorn Protector. The Thorn had grown massively since its inception as the cursed form of the wraith Tirindain, and the Ravager thought it best to placate the entity, if not gain its assistance. Though the Thorn did not respond to the Ravager’s overtures, it did accept the gifts.
But the Ravager could not be everywhere at once, and the haelhene had outposts on land as well as at sea. Additionally, the loyuhene and the airahene of the Night and Mist Forests attacked the Ravager any time they saw it, so it spent all too much time struggling with lesser problems while the bigger villains worked in secret. It did not see the haelhene influence on the kingdoms that nudged them inexorably toward war, and when fighting finally broke out on the Tevin-Sesen border, the tense peace in the land shattered. Eagle and Wolf fought Snake and Badger while Hawk screamed for Bear to join in, and all participants raided the Crane and Hare territory for supplies—for those were the most fertile and settled lands, the breadbasket of the northeast, and no one could survive without its support.
In the chaos, the haelhene stole away as many humans and skinchangers as they could, to be taken for experimentation on the White Isle, and though the Ravager tried to stop them, it had little success. Nor could it chase them; as it was bound to Fire, so it could not cross water without debilitating effects.
The war for control extended through several generations, with the Tevinites bringing the Sesenites to heel only to be attacked by the infuriated bear-folk of Nurin. Sesen constantly tried to revolt, and it was only through draconian governance that Tevin managed to keep control of it and meet the challenge of Nurin. With the farms of Anan falling entirely under Tevinite power, the Eagle kingdom gained great leverage over the others, and there was some discussion in Nurin of calling a truce—perhaps ceding some land to Tevin in exchange for resumption of trade.
But the Hawk advisor of Nurin would not hear of it. The Hawk spirit, Kvenkiut, had always been the rival of the Eagle Senket—always the little sibling, the runner-up, the one who flew in the winner’s shadow. Kvenkiut refused to yield anything at all to the people of his enemy, and challenged Senket directly. They would compete to see who would rule this nascent empire, and all the other tribes would just have to live with the outcome.
The aerial duel lasted for days. Senket was larger and more powerful but not as maneuverable as Kvenkiut, and they spent much time in near-misses and trying to tire each other out, their flight taking them from the Garnet Mountains to the Hag’s Needles to the very slopes of the volcano Aekhaelesgeria. In trying to snatch Kvenkiut, Senket’s talons tore through the rock of the Tevin plateau, transforming it into a labyrinth of canyons and switchbacks and arches; in trying to shake Senket, Kvenkiut threaded the Hag’s Needles too recklessly and broke several of the fragile spires. At last, in a bid to unnerve the great Eagle, Kvenkiut flew low over the Fading Sea in the corner of Sesenite territory, for it was said that Senket had created the sea in its failed attempt to drop a mountain on a wraith spire.
Senket pursued but did not descend, for the glare of sunlight off the water unnerved it. Every glint made it imagine the wraiths. Kvenkiut had only ever dealt with the reclusive loyuhene of the Forest of Night where it laired, and openly mocked Senket’s reticence. Even when they spotted the crystal ship embedded at an angle in the center of the sea, Kvenkiut did not withdraw but renewed its challenge to Senket: whoever tore the ship from its moorings and flung it out to the ocean would be the winner.
Senket tried to call Kvenkiut back, then tried to catch it and pull it away from the disastrous idea, but the Hawk spirit evaded the Eagle’s claws and pressed on, laughing and taunting. The crystal ship looked abandoned, and though its substance had killed a Ravager-host once, the spirits themselves were not so vulnerable; they could shunt such energies into the spirit realm and through their skinchanger children, and Kvenkiut thought it could do so long enough to fling the ship away.
It was already near the bottom of its attack-dive when the crystal opened up beneath it like a flower. Shocked, the Hawk reacted too slowly, and the ship snapped shut around it.
The Ravager, the hawk-folk and all the other predator spirits felt Kvenkiut die. Senket fled in horror and the Tevinite offensive collapsed, the eagle-folk just as traumatized as their spirit. They withdrew back to their torn-up tableland to regroup, and in the sudden power-vacuum, the Bear tribe of Nurin stepped forward to claim battered Sesen and repeat the Tevinite ultimatum back at them.
Thus, the first to take the throne of a united northeastern empire was a Bear. Nurin, Sesen, Anan and Tevin were forged together in mutual hatred of the wraiths, with Kiren at the western fringe as an ally—for though the Fox King laid down his crown, he would not pledge allegiance, and the Bear could not be bothered to force him. After all, the Fox and Crow tribes had always been the Bear’s allies, even if they were often nuisances and always disobedient. Nothing had changed.
And the Bear named the new empire Ruen Wyn, from the old ogrish term for this fertile land: ‘friend of the people’. To encourage the aggressive tribes to play nice together, he also instituted the ritual of the passing of the crown: that the Emperor could not choose his own successor, but that upon his death or retirement from the throne, the council of tribal leaders would choose the new Emperor from among the royals of all tribes.
The Bear Emperor’s sons hated the idea, but the other tribes thought it had merit. Even the Fox and Crow said they would consider joining if this arrangement seemed to work.
The first order of business was to repair the damage the war had wrought and try to mend relations between the tribes. Easier said than done, of course. The Eagle tribe had withdrawn almost entirely into the plateau-lands, having sunk into a sort of racial depression due to Senket’s own devastation. The Wolf tribe became the main voice of Tevin, but the Hawk folk—now beastmen and humans rather than skinchangers due to the death of the spirit—demanded revenge against Senket and Tevin for Kvenkiut’s death, or at least some kind of compensation. The Emperor tried to mediate, the Snake and Badger tribes would not let their grudges rest, and the situation remained tense for a long time.
Meanwhile, the Ravager made a home for itself in the northern Garnet Mountains, not too close to the Fading Sea but not too far away either. It was stunned and enraged by the sudden loss of the Hawk spirit, and determined to figure out how to contain the threat of the wraiths once and for all—Kuthrallan notwithstanding. Its presence brought predators flocking to its area to seek blessings, and soon a village grew up around it. Most of its hosts for the next century would be from that village, as if it had finally found a home in the physical world.