Even before the sudden darkness, the Heartlands kingdoms were not the only places where strange things were happening. Several decades prior to 240 Age of Kingdoms, the Goddess of Knowledge had begun behaving erratically—even by the standards of eccentricity to which she was already held—and had tasked her servitors away from their usual scientific duties. Instead, she had them monitoring the God of Law and his knights.
Despite Law’s fall from the throne of Altaera and subsequent marginalization, he was still a powerful religious force in the realm, with courthouses and monasteries from Gejara in the north to Zhangi-Uru in the south. His knights served as judges and advocates for the common people, and were trusted for their impartiality and their dedication to fairness. They had assisted in overthrowing many an abusive regime, and in some of the wilder lands they were the only form of law enforcement that the people trusted.
Thus many of Knowledge’s servitors found it surprising that they would be assigned to watch the Knights of Law, as if their goddess suspected some kind of wrongdoing. Knowledge’s own worshipers were spread throughout the same lands that Law’s inhabited, with neither of them having made many inroads in the east—whether the Heartlands or Ciritheen. Additionally, Law and Knowledge had long been seen as partners and collaborators for the common good, so any suspicion or schism between them was worrying.
Still, Knowledge’s servants knew their tasks, and performed them diligently. They spied on the Knights, shadowed them, observed their home lives, read through their official reports, attended their court sessions, and otherwise collected all of the data possible on every Knight they could find. And as they continued to bring this data back to their Lady, her demeanor began to change.
She had always been peculiar—introverted, obsessive—but now she became secretive, a vast departure from her prior efforts in making access to information as free and widespread as possible. She took back all of the Grimoires that had not been lost during the Sealing Disasters, shuttered several of her public collections of related material, and jettisoned many of her lay-follower organizations and less-dedicated servitors with the explanation that they were ‘no longer trustworthy’. She also shifted many of her temples out of the physical world and into her labyrinthine library-realm, with only minimal passage allowed between.
The other deities and faiths were baffled by her actions, but as she had never shown hostility and was giving no warnings, they largely decided that she was reacting to an internal issue and not to any threat. Thus they were even more surprised when, in 210 AoK, she invaded the spirit realm briefly to attack and absorb Kosh Tenkosh, the spirit of spiders.
This act sent a shockwave through all the realms. It was the first time that one of the deities had entered the spirit realm, which had previously been considered impossible because of the barrier of the Grey, and also the first murder of a spirit by a god since the consuming of Kishirror by Death. Additionally, Kosh Tenkosh’s absorption gave the Lady of Knowledge all of her powers, which included control of the webs that made up the Shadow Realm’s pathways and its centerpoint of Oretcht’ke, the City and Spindle. The Lady of Knowledge seemed disinterested in the Shadow Realm, however, and though she could have taken over Oretcht’ke and perhaps even challenged the Shadow God for control of his own realm, she turned away, leaving the place to its own devices.
In the wake of Kosh Tenkosh’s loss, the spiders that lived within Oretcht’ke lost much of their sentience and thus their ability to stitch connections between the Shadow Realm and the physical. It was only by luck that a few of them retained enough of their minds to keep the webs repaired and prevent Oretcht’ke from physically falling into the Dark. However, the realm became inaccessible except through the intervention of the eiyets or to those with the blood of the Shadow God himself; no longer could the realm’s paths be called by his unblooded servants, and no longer could new permanent routes be made. Any gap in the path or new connection had to be forged by eiyets themselves, giving rise to the dangerous practice of creating temporary eiyenbridges from their substance.
Meanwhile, the Lady of Knowledge was using her new powers to stitch windows between her realm and the physical world so that she could spy more easily on Law and his knights. She also began gathering new servitors, vastly different from her usual librarian- and scholar-types, and soon her ranks were swollen with thieves, spies and thugs that not even the Shadow Folk would accept. If not for her extreme secrecy, this would have made the other gods and faiths nervous, but as these new servitors just disappeared from the physical world when she claimed them, all they left was a dip in the crime statistics.
Still, her work was not invisible, and for years the Yezadran and Pajhrasthani cities had to battle the scorpion-men of the Varaku Range, who came out of the mountains and deserts to assault the cities they associated with Knowledge-worship in retaliation for the killing of their spirit Riskili’s mate. Additionally, the Knights of Law and the Shadow Folk were both trying to investigate Knowledge’s actions, but one was hampered by its own code of conduct while the other was still struggling to pull itself together after losing control of Oretcht’ke.
When the assassinations began in 232 AoK, they were initially blamed on the Shadow Folk, for it was not yet known that the Lady of Knowledge had turned her spy-windows into assassin-doors. The targets were the Knights of Law, and over a four-year period, every single Knight who had taken vows was hunted down and murdered along with his or her trainees. While the Knights tried to fight back, they only ever clashed with single assassins; there seemed no hideouts for them to trace the assassins’ activities back to, no coordinating network in the physical world, no identifying marks upon the assassins themselves to show who had ordered this.
But Law knew. He had been trying to break through Knowledge’s shell since her retreat, without success or even acknowledgment. While the assassinations were taking place, he tried frequently to contact her or breach her realm, but was always rebuffed, and though he contemplated razing her temples and libraries in the physical world to get a response from her, it seemed that she had abandoned those places to their own devices; the servitors who dwelt in them had not been in contact with her for years, nor could Law find any links between them and the assassins.
Only when the last Knight was dead did he manage to breach her realm. He found her waiting there, wild-eyed in the center of her cobwebbed labyrinth, and when he demanded answers, she tore him apart and tried to devour him.
Even without the support of his Knights, though, Law was too powerful for her to absorb entirely. Fragments of him fell free from her realm and were spotted by the goddesses Brancir and Loahravi, each of which claimed one and reported back to her side of the pantheon that Law had been killed. Brancir chose to wield her piece of Law as a shield and take up his mantle of Justice, while Loahravi made of hers a crown and declared herself the bearer of divine Authority.
Meanwhile, the Lady of Knowledge kept her piece of Law as a sword, and named it Vengeance. And when she took it up and stepped back into the public eye, she had become a new entity: vicious, judgmental, all-seeing, and dedicated to acting on the information she had only collected before. Her scholarly followers abandoned her, striking her former name from their records so that no one could speak it and accidentally draw her eye, and renamed her the Nemesis, Lady of Assassins.
Because of her secrecy, no one ever knew why she had killed Law, though there were many theories. Her attempts on the lives of other spirits and deities did not stop at him, either; several years later, she would hunt down and consume the Gold elemental—killing all gold elementalkin in the process—and she was in constant conflict with Riskili the Scorpion, the Trifold Goddess and the Shadow God. Thus, when the sun failed to rise in 240 AoK, many believed that she had slain Light as well.
If so, then she had done it quite thoroughly.
The Long Darkness, as it would be called, caused widespread freezing and famine as world temperatures plunged. It had begun at midwinter, when the traditional ritual of calling the sun back for another year was performed, so in addition to the effects of worsening cold were those of the spontaneous doomsday cults that sprang up like mushrooms after rain. Entire Light-affiliated temples immolated themselves in attempts to bring back the sun, and attacks on Shadow Folk rose tremendously as they were blamed for hiding or killing Light. More Knowledge temples were burned in retaliation for the Nemesis’ possible role in this, despite those temples no longer being affiliated with her, and the remaining scholars and librarians fled into the ranks of the Trifolders or Sun and Moon priesthoods—if they were not executed for having been associated with the fallen goddess.
By the three-month mark, food-stores were getting low. Farmers were eating the seeds they had planned to plant with in the spring; livestock and wild animals were starving; entire equatorial communities had frozen due to lack of cold-weather preparedness. Mages struggled to supply their communities with artificial light and heat and to grow food through the use of elemental servants—one of the lost arts of the fallen Tome City of Ashnahar—while the Trifold struggled to stave off sickness and the Loahravi and Rhehevrok priesthoods began raiding again to cannibalize those communities weaker than them. By the four-month mark, though, even the raiders were suffering too badly to continue, and all survivors were either huddled underground in the old elemental- and goblin-carved undercities or being protected by slowly-failing arcane domes.
Then news started going around—carried by lone and somehow cold-tolerant travelers—that the King of Daecia in the Eastern Heartlands had uncovered the conspiracy that had slain the sun. They placed the blame on the Shadow Folk, the elementals and the spirits, claiming that they were trying to kill off humanity so that their kind could once again rule the world. According to the theory, the skinchangers were not starving in their dens like the rest of the world but had gone into hibernation, fed by energy from their spirits, so that they could easily destroy the weakened humans when the time came; it also made connections between the spirits and skinchangers and the Darkness, saying that they did not need light to live. The King of Daecia, who claimed to be a descendant of the Firehawk, was supposedly the only one with the power to stand up to them and resurrect the sun.
He would do so at high noon on Midsummer’s Day, the reports said. And so the people prayed, and waited, and watched the moon and stars and tried to measure the time.
And at Eastern Heartlands high noon on Midsummer’s Day, the sun reappeared in the center of the sky as if coming out from an eclipse.
The weather immediately turned wild, but though there were deaths from flooding and storms as the piled-up snow melted, there was also mass rejoicing and a flurry of activity as farmers tried to prepare their land and plant crops for what remained of the season. Famine persisted, and warfare kicked up as the warm weather returned and the bloodthirsty cults began raiding again, but in the northeast the situation rapidly stabilized as Daecia started handing out food that their King had supposedly grown with his radiance.
He was already calling himself the Risen Phoenix Emperor, Scion of the Light, and with the extended summer and autumn that the Eastern Heartlands experienced for the next few years, it was swiftly accepted by the locals that he had in fact resurrected the sun and was perhaps even the manifestation of the sun itself. The spirits and elementals seemed confused about the subject; none of them could say whether or not this was Light’s newest incarnation. The Temple of the Sun in Yezad was likewise uncertain, because all of Light’s blessings seemed to have fled it; many priests either left the faith or committed suicide over their failure of their god in the years after.
Only the King of Amandon resisted the Risen Phoenix Emperor’s bid to control the central Heartlands, and that did not last long; he was murdered by his sons within a few years, after the sudden arrival of a new moon in the night sky–the golden Child Moon–was taken as an indication that the Risen Phoenix Emperor was a stronger Light than ever and that he and the (now-Mother) Moon had had a child. The Amandic princes then turned the kingdom’s reins over to the Emperor.
The Accursed Thornland, which had for a short time been open to the other Heartlands, chose to seal its borders rather than be associated with the Risen Phoenix; likewise, the Garnet Mountain Territory and the kingdoms of Corvia and Wyndon were leery of the sudden fealty shown to the Emperor, as well as his anti-spirit rhetoric. When the Shamanic Purge began in the eighth year of the Emperor’s reign, those shamans and skinchangers who could do so fled from the central Heartlands into the fringe lands; this later culminated in both the Garnet Mountain War (Imperial Reckoning 32-38), which pitted the Empire against the wild folk, and the Corvish Decimation (Imperial Reckoning 68-87), in which the Empire attempted to exterminate the Fox and Crow folk entirely.
In the year 81 Imperial Reckoning, the Silent Circle’s floating Citadel at Darakus was sabotaged and fell to earth, leaving the Darakus Crater in northeastern Jernizan. The third Risen Phoenix Emperor convinced the Silent Circle to build its new base within the Phoenix Empire, at the site of the old capital of Valent. The Citadel at Valent was completed within a few years, and over the ensuing decades more and more of the Silent Circle’s operations were moved into the now extremely accommodating Heartlands.
By the year 171 Imperial Reckoning, the Phoenix Empire—under Risen Phoenix Emperor Aradys IV—had solidified its hold on all of the Heartlands, as well as Averogne, Kerrindryr and Illane on the other side of the Rift. It also held some of Jernizan’s eastern lands, had a treaty with Gejara, and was infringing upon Pajhrastha’s territory. Worship of the Emperor as the Scion of Light was pervasive within the Empire but considered ridiculous outside of it, though no one could deny the facts of the Long Darkness.
Meanwhile, the world at large had become less law-abiding, less civilized and less faithful due to the loss and corruption of Law, Nemesis and the Light, and the other gods were struggling to expand their influence despite the pact. The spirits were at low ebb, with their territories threatened and their children in decline, and the elementals were likewise uneasy; many had locked themselves away from humankind again. Confusion and unrest seethed beneath the surface of every city-state, every kingdom, every fledgling empire.
Thus begins our story.