Forrest Cameranesi, Geek of All Trades

The Falling of the Darklight

In the land of Sphidia, a wizard-priest of the Church of the Eldest narrates to his congregation the central myth of their religion. Before their world, and beyond it, there was another world, with a storied past now all but forgotten to all in Sphidia. Though the people of that world were as gods to the people of Sphidia merely for transcending it and predating it, among them were people even they reckoned as gods, and the greatest of them is now remembered in Sphidia as the Eldest. So as to give new life to his lost love, the Eldest created the world of Sphidia, a realm of pure spirit, where his love could find new life immortal, free from the bonds of the flesh that had betrayed her. But that world was not made only for her, and other beings from the Eldest's world came into it in spirit, while their bodies lay dormant in their own world; and when their flesh in time betrayed them, many of their spirits took up permanent residence in the world of Sphidia. Those immortal spirits, the first residents of Sphidia, are remembered now as the Old Ones. The Eldest also populated the new world with fantastic creatures born wholly from his mind, to maintain its order and beauty. He placed in the sky the sun and the moon, and bore from his mind the goddesses Fire and Ice to move those celestial lights, and also to cultivate the virtues of the Old Ones together, and to turn their vices against each other. And he divided the world into many realms, into which the Old Ones were sorted according to their strengths and qualities so as to best provide for the wellbeing of all. His love was quickly reckoned the Queen of that realm reserved for only the strongest of souls. For a time it was good, until a great cataclysm of now-forgotten origin befell the world of the Eldest, and threatned to take the new world and all of the spirits therein with it. So as to save them all, and most of all to save his love, the Eldest used powers beyond comprehension to preserve a small part of old Sphidia that once was. He manifested his powers within the world as a great sword in its skies, within the hilt of which he resided, as in the hull of a flying ship. With it he carved out a protected realm, into which he shepherded all he could, to preserve them while the rest of old Sphidia fell. In that small protectorate there was no room for the wars of the goddesses pitting vice against vice, only for the collaboration of their respective virtues; so with his mighty sword he destroyed the sun and the moon, drawing their opposite lights into its blade, from which then radiated one light of mixed nature that was called the Darklight. But he left the goddesses Fire and Ice to continue acting as ambassadors for their respective virtues. At the start of that new Sphidia, the love of the Eldest, the one reckoned Queen, walked among the other Old Ones together in the one protected realm. But she had long ago suffered countless ages of torture unspeakable, and it had driven her mad. In the old world of tiered realms those who could not bare her madness had been spared from it, safe in realms reserved for the weak and timid while she ruled the realm of the strongest. But now with only one realm preseved, her wrath was continually inflicted on many who would wish to avoid it; and though all the Old Ones were immortal, still they could suffer from her attacks, a suffering as painful as death but without the release thereof thereafter. With a heavy heart for his lost love's soul, but knowing he must do right by all the other souls in his care, the Eldest was forced to banish the Queen to another, smaller realm, to which any who wished could visit, but from which she could not leave. For the Old Ones that was better, but still many of them would come into the Queen's realm to challenge her strength, and so her life was one of constant battle. That was as it had been in the old world, but now with his eye fixed upon only this small remnant, and his love foremost in it, the Eldest could not stand to see her suffer in madness perpetually. So he sealed off her realm to the Old Ones, leaving it open only to himself and to the goddesses, whom he tasked with cultivating virtues and hopefully sanity in his lost love, however long it may take. Though done from love, the Queen immediately resented her isolation, and resisted the efforts of Fire and Ice to cultivate virtue and sanity in her. To spite the Eldest, she instead exploited the darker natures of the goddesses. While Fire preached to her the virtue of compassion, she stoked in Fire the flames of meddlesome, even wrathful passions, seeking after ends reckoned good, no matter what the dark means used to reach them. And while Ice preached to her temperance and tolerance, the Queen twisted her dispassion into uncaring apathy, and a cold sense of merely procedural justice, no matter what sad ends it may allow to pass. As the goddesses were slowly darkened through the Queen's counter-didactics, she was able to stir in them a resentment for the usurpation of their old powers by the Eldest, and a jealousy of that which he had taken from them. Once, in due time, their visits had degenerated into routine sessions of mutual complaint about their collective subordination to the Eldest, the Queen was able to suggest a plan to take power back from him again, and the goddesses agreed. With deceit and guile, Fire and Ice were able entrap the Eldest's avatar, the physical manifestation of his spirit, within a chamber in the Sword of Darklight. From that prison he could only escape by abandoning the world entirely, fleeing in spirit back to the world beyond; and in doing so, condemning Sphidia — and all the Old Ones, and his love the Queen, for whom this entire endeavor was purposed — to immediate oblivion, an option he would never take. The Eldest thus trapped, the goddesses took control of the Sword of Darklight, and as a symbol of defiance crashed it to the ground below. This falling of the Sword of Darklight sundered the once-united land into two large pieces, and a smaller one upon which the Sword rested, point buried in the ground, like a tombstone marking the Eldest's final resting place. (More details).

With the Eldest dethroned, the goddesses Fire and Ice took back their powers from the Sword of Darklight, returning the respective lights of the sun and the moon to themselves, leaving only the barest sliver of Darklight still emanating from the Sword, bathing only the tiny sliver of land where it stood, and no longer the whole of the world. With their light and their power they rebuilt their celestial palaces, the sun and the moon, and placed them once more on opposite sides of the sky, circling the world, so that each goddess could rule over its people in turn. But thus restored to power, they then betrayed the Eldest's Queen who had conspired with them to this end. They did not free her from the prison in which the Eldest had trapped her. Instead, for their own amusement, they abandoned her to her isolation until the day a nigh-impossible game of their devising would be won. They each forged magic gems, encapsulating within them most of their respective powers, between the two enough power to break the Queen's confinement. They then gave these gems as as gifts to the sundered peoples of the two lands into which Sphidia had been broken. By exposure to these gems, the people would be changed into two different peoples, diametrically opposed in nature and destined to conflict when they again met, as the lands converged on the far side of the world. Only if, against all odds those two peoples could mend their ways so much as to conceive a child between them — and even then, only with the combined power of the two gems — would the Queen's prison realm be emptied, as the Queen herself was reborn into the person of that fateful child. In one land, which had been in the east of the old world but would become the west of the new, the goddess Ice gave her gem of power to a young woman remembered to history as the Ice Queen. This gem, which she fashioned into a pendant worn around her neck, gave her power over frost and ice, of course; but also powers over the minds of others, even as it changed her own mind similarly. It made her emotionally cold, in a way that she would perceive as beneficent: dispassionate, calm, tolerant, forgiving, all the positive qualities that the goddess Ice had cultivated in the higher realms of the world before the fall. But it also made her cold in more maleficent ways: callous, uncaring, apathetic to the suffering of others. With the gem's power she was able to affect all of these qualities in others at her will, and to steer them toward her ends in that way, even as the gem steered the ends she had in mind. As the civilization of her world was in turmoil following the loss of the Eldest, who had been guiding them to build a better society together, and the literal shattering of her world, the Ice Queen began to use the power of the gem of Ice to settle conflicts and slowly influence a new system of governance. Like she had become, it was tolerant and forgiving, prizing freedom and justice; but in a cold, uncaring way, callous to whatever negative consequences might befall people, be it though misfortune or their own error, so long as the letter of the law was satisfied. As the ages wore on and such libertarianism spread in influence throughout her land, the Ice Queen found that the gem had more subtle influences on herself and the many people she worked its magic on as well. They gradually grew tall and pale, with a faint pink hue to the skin that glittered in the sunlight; but the moonlight began to freeze them alive, the failsafe of the goddess Ice to control those who wielded her power. Their intelligence was bolstered, and they retained their prior strength. Their eyes turned ice blue. Meat became inedible to them, so they had to eat only plants. They also began to age more slowly, until in time they did not age at all; but in consequence, their natural form of immortality was lost, and if they should be slain, as they remained still vulnerable to wounds, they would not regenerate, but would be separated from their decaying bodies as intangible ghosts until they should tire of that existence and, embracing oblivion as all memory was lost, reincarnate into a newborn infant. To stave off that fate, however, they were gifted with powers of magical healing, to imbue life and health into each other with their embrace. They had become the first Elves. In the other land, the old west which became the east of the new world, the goddess Fire gave her gem of power to a young man remembered as the Fire King, and a similar transformation of both him, his people, and their society occurred. The gem, which he fashioned into a ring worn on his hand, gave him powers of fire and flame, of course; but also powers over the minds of others, even as it changed his own mind similarly. It made him hot and passionate in ways that seemed good to him: caring, compassionate, motivated, ambitious, all the positive qualities that the goddess Fire had cultivated before the fall. But it also made him hot in worse ways: intemperate, quick to anger, unforgiving, intolerant of anyone who would not go his way. And like the other gem, he was able to affect these qualities in others and so bend them to his will, even as his own will was bent by the influence of the gem. As in the other land, the people of his land were in turmoil since the sundering of the world, with conflict and strife everywhere. Using the power of the gem, he became a great warrior, rallying his kinsmen to fight by his side and soundly defeating their enemies, rising to prominence as a great ruler who gradually conquered all of those lands. And a benevolent ruler he was, truly caring deeply about the equal wellbeing of all his subjects. With an iron fist, he took from those who had accumulated more than he felt they deserved, and gave to those who needed it more. All would be equal beneath him, and anyone who threatened his utopia would be dealt with harshly. As time passed and his communist empire spread across the land, he too found the power of his gem reshaping himself and all the people whom he had worked its magic upon. Like the Elves, they grew tall and pale, but their skin took on a ghastly blue tinge that glowed hauntingly under moonlight; and sunlight began to burn them, the failsafe of the goddess Fire to control those who wielded her power. Their strength was bolstered, and they retained their prior intelligence. Their eyes turned fiery red. Plants gave them no nourishment, and they were forced to hunt for meats to survive. They grew hardier of constitution, until in time they could not be wounded at all; but their natural immortality was likewise lost, and over time they would inexorably wither and age until they became ghosts fated to wander the world intangible until they too embraced oblivion and reincarnated as newborn infants. The only hope to stave off that fate for their kind was to use a deadly power given to them, to drain the life force from others, thus extending their own natural lifespans. They had become the first Vampires. (More details).

Over unreckoned aeons, not geologic time by the scale of the old world beyond but many generations still, the divided lands of old Sphidia drifted far around the world and collided again. The angelic mer-folk who had once operated the bridges between the old world's realms cast an illusion upon their seas to hide the Sword of Darklight on the far side of the world from any who would seek out its power, and in time the people of the new land would come to think it the only land, at the center of a flat world. But as that land first came together, the vampires of the east discovered the new west and sent forth explorers to map its contours. There, however, they found what to them looked to be a capitalist dystopia: wealthy elven nobles living in fantastic palaces while legions of desperate lesser elves toiled far and wide in the lands that they owned, all for the privilege of continuing to exist upon property that was not theirs. Shocked by the news of this, the Fire King sent forth missionaries to try to stir revolution in those elven serfs. But the cold-hearted elves were callous even to their own plight, reckoning that no specific injustice had been committed to bring this state of affairs to pass, as unfortunate as it may be, and that the burden fell upon themselves to try to work harder within the system to earn a place higher in its structure. Many even thought that the vampire civilization of the east sounded astoundingly injust, even for its proclaimed egalitarianism, though they did not begrudge them that way of life if that was what they freely chose. Appalled by this false consciousness, the Fire King sent forth an army to topple the evil elven nobility and free the serfs who would not free themselves. This vampire army found however that their bite did not merely weaken and drain the life of their victims like it did when they themselves were bit; instead, it mixed with their own strange elven magic to transform them into something different, smaller creatures of lesser intellect and no magic, their bright blue eyes reduced to slate grey, and their skin turned a darker olive complexion; what in later ages would be reckoned orcs. The vampires found that these orcs felt naturally cowed by overwhelming fear of the vampires, and in terrified subservience would do as they commanded. This enabled the vampires to finally instigate the uprising as they had been trying to do. The elves thought these new orcish creatures somehow sickened by the vampires, and so tried to heal them with their unique magical gift; but they found that it only transformed them into something else different entirely. Their intellect was partly restored, but their strength was weakened; they kept their short stature, but their dark complexions turned ruddy instead of olive; and their eyes likewise changed from grey to brown, like a dimmed version of the vampires' fiery red. They had become the creatures in later eras reckoned (by themselves) as human, though of course all of these peoples had continued to reckon themselves as human, even though none truly were anymore. By some magical effect of charm, these new humans were awestruck in admiration of the elves' transcendent beauty, and easily complied to win their respect and approval, stalling the vampires' revolution. Thinking that perhaps the vampires themselves were sickened in some way, with their ghastly blue-tinged complexions and demonic red eyes, and seeing as how the vampires were otherwise invulnerable anyway, some clever elves attempted to heal them as well, and found that they too were reduced to "human" form by that process. The other vampires took these "casualties" back into the east, accidentally taking some of the formerly-elf-turned-orc-turned-human beings along with them too; and though they had learned that they could turn humans into orcs with their bite as well, they found humans more alike to themselves in spirit, and did not wish to inflict orc-hood upon their own people. So the ranks of elves and vampires were diminished, and in the east and west respectively accumulated legions of orcs and humans in their place. Seeing where these events were headed, the Fire King himself came forth to put an end to this war, leading a great army of vampires. To protect what remained of her people, the Ice Queen in turn left her palace to bar him from entering their lands. On the sands and in the shallow waters of the vanishing sliver of sea still dividing their lands, they faced off with their armies behind them as the moon sank low into the west and the day began to break in the east. A spectacular duel of frost and flame eventually turned to grappling between the bearers of the respective gems, and as the Fire King drained the Ice Queen's life with his bite, she embraced him back, pouring all of her energy into him. They were reduced to orc and human both, and then her heart shriveled away, while his, overwhelmed with energy it could not contain, burst inside his chest. Their bodies were both lost in the sands and waters and the ensuing carnage of the armies around them, and the gems that they bore lost with them. Over time, as the war limped along in the absence of its leaders, the humans and orcs came to dominate the two halves of the world, though nominally beholden to the ever-diminishing numbers of elves and vampires who yet remained. The elves and the humans loyal to them regrouped into one of their most remote cities in the north of what had been their side of the world. Meanwhile the vampires ranged far and wide trying to rally all of orc and humankind alike together before converging on the elves' stronghold and crushing them at last. In the elven enclave, some of them interbred with the humans loyal to them, and were pleased to find a being somewhat between them created in the process, like a human but more intelligent, more dispassionate, and capable of wielding magic, though not with the same power as the elves, or of the uncorrupted spirit-beings who first inhabited the world. They were reckoned as wizards by humankind. The vampires, likewise, found that interbreeding with orcs created stronger, bolder, magically-capable versions of the orcs, whom humans would come to name warlocks. With these warlocks as their lieutenants the vampires tried to rally the world's orcs and men together into an alliance of communal tribes to oppose the tyranny of the elves. They largely found only the orcs docile and obedient enough to comply with those plans. Meanwhile the humans in the elven enclave dragged their reluctant wizard kin out into the world to oppose the warlocks and liberate orcs and men alike from the totalitarian oppression they and their vampire masters sought to impose on the whole world. The humans of the east, now a mix of the descendants of once-vampires and once-elves, found this kind of autonomy more appealing, and many of them wholeheartedly signed up for a program of hunting the remaining vampires to extinction. Over generations this order slowly gelled, and in time the men and wizards of the east thought they had succeeded in eradicating vampires from the world, though the west remained dominated by warlocks ruling over tribes of orcs. And the elves, as the world slowly settled into a peace that seemed like it would disturb them no more, quietly resigned themselves to isolation in their one small enclave in the north. (More details).