A tale of Shadow Era

Loest was exhausted. His body ached from the overexertion caused by so many days on the run. His father's last request, that his diary be protected at any cost, had certainly taken its toll on the young man. Yet never once had he stopped to draw the book from its protective leather case and read it. He was willing, and already had far too often, to risk his life as steward of words he'd never known.

Without realizing it his hand was already tugging the book from his bag, untying the strings that sealed it from the outside world. He paused for a moment to find a better place to rest, searching for a brush dense enough to obscure himself from the sight of any forces that might be close enough to see him. Satisfied he was hidden well enough, he gave a brief thought to the fact these knots had been tied by the head priest of Arada before his untimely death.

Choking back his feelings of guilt, Loest opened the book and at last read the words that held the truth of his fate in them. The words that held the secrets he prayed, in his own way, could save Balor. The last words of Wizent.

Firesday the 16th of Meadmaan, 998 L.W.

It's been a long year, and though it is only a little over 2 months from closing altogether, I find myself aging faster now than ever before. Rothem has always been a good man, and a fair king, but sometimes I think there's too much history in his blood. The Last War approaches a thousand years gone, and yet he still believes Layar needs to show the rest of the world its prowess. The parades have always been a little exuberant for my taste, but this new fortress he's planning is just too much.

Few men have ever claimed to climb to the peaks of Mt. Balor, yet the king seeks to build atop it! True, he's not so foolish that he believes the summit would be suitable, but I'd not be shocked to learn that he tries to add a spire to the plans to rise above the sky itself. Were I not so sure the man held the priesthoods in such high regard, I'd swear the fool was trying to end me all on his own. Wasn't Nishaven raised alongside him to be an adviser the man could trust? Bah, too much of the king's pride is in both of them!

Though I can't claim the king works alone to bring my wits to an end. My own son seeks to unravel me, or so it seems most days. I can understand a crisis of faith, but to openly claim he holds no belief in the Seven Gods of Balor at all? That is just beyond me. He cites the darkness in our world as his cause, and many among our temple believe it to be his heritage. Not that we know who the boy's biological parents could be, but my own disciple swears he must hail from Lyth to utter these things. So, of course, she has to be the one teaching the class in which my son decides to blurt his newly found 'beliefs' in. Zhanna's always been a passionate follower of our goddess, and I've always considered that a credit to her character. Apparently, I was mistaken in this regard as it became my great sadness when she decided to bring her confusion to my chambers last night, seeking clarity to impart to my son on my behalf.

I hold little hope that Snomaan or Wolfmaan will hold any better tidings, and so thus I pray to Arada that the final year of the Last War's millennium will bring some much needed cause for relaxation. Perhaps by Seedmaan Rothem and Loest alike will have abandoned their wild notions. I might even live to see the ages turn!

Loest paused for a moment to take in his father's words. He'd known his lack of faith had always concerned the man, but to see the depth of those concerns so plainly stated was breathtakingly difficult for the young man. So much so that he even considered putting the book away rather than bear these inner thoughts.

However, these were his father's words. When he read them Loest could almost hear the man's voice again. Perhaps the pain of truth was less than the pain of loss, but the young man found himself spreading the worn leather apart once more to the events three weeks later.

Lightsday the 10th of Snoman, 998 L.W.

Blessed Arada, I don't know if I have the strength to bear the trials of these times. Since the day those men fell into the cavern atop Mount Balor everything has been slowly falling into chaos. Good men, loyal men, turning against their superiors for no reason. Riots and assaults are now more frequent than progress on the construction. They cannot even make charges for the murders because they are becoming so common.

I've sent three members of our church now to aid these men, to remind them of the seven and the love of Arada. The first abandoned his calling, falling into the same blind rage as the others. The second was summarily murdered in his sleep within a week of his arrival. Thankfully the third was able to escape with only minor injuries from his attackers and is safely back here with us.

I am grateful that Rothem is taking the issue seriously as well. I just received a letter detailing the guards he's sending. Even his advisor is tagging along to try and restore some semblance of order there. While I still worry for the king's motives, at least action is taking place. The sooner the issue is sorted the better.

I suppose, though, that the failures of my fellow man are only part of what troubles me so. As silly as it is to write this even in secret, my dreams trouble me so much more. So realistic, so vivid, and yet incomprehensible. I am not sure if I should pray for them to stop or for understating of what they mean.

I see small shadows, tiny specs in the sea of the light that is Balor. They would be nothing, except something brings them together, draws them into a single darkness. Slowly this darkness creeps out and seeps into everything. It and the light fight for the whole of the world, warring until an ultimate stalemate.

These battles are terrifying in their scope, but only serve as pretense; Celestial beings of unimaginable power. Too much for our broken world to stand against. They purge the world of all that is and ever will be. I want to believe my mind is just too focused on the texts I've been reading, yet still this fear remains.

Loest paused once more, letting the words truly have the time they needed to process. So few books would have possessed any details on what had happened at the start of this brutal war, and fewer people had been so well positioned to see the grand scale as his father had been. Was it possible the cause of it all, the source of this bitter plague had been recorded as well? Impatiently, he flipped ahead several more pages, hoping three months was enough time for his father to really explain the most terrible events across his homeland. Desperately he found himself drinking in the words as if he'd never understood what he'd been carrying until that moment.

Watersday the 33rd of Seedmaan, 999 L.W.

Blessed Arada, these are trying times indeed. Since Nishaven returned with those accursed stones from the mountain, it seems all of the world has fallen to madness. Many of our people claim all of the seven have abandoned us, some have even began to flee to foreign nations from the terrors that seems to be plaguing Layar. I do not blame them for these fears, not with the rumors that are falling upon my ears as of late.

Animals, more like monsters I'm told, appearing in the forests and attacking anything and anyone who crosses their 'domains'. At first I believed they were just the animals reflecting the unrest of our citizens; that lasted until my healers began sending me reports of the wounds they'd been called to treat. Wounds, they claimed, that were made by nothing they'd seen. A snake bite that left marks as if held to an open flame, or a boar with tusks that grew as it felled the members of a small hunting party. Abominations that could only come from the dark domains the Brother's Faiths, Ellos and Vozit, speak of. I admit to it, I've requested a cleric from the Temples of Unaxio to come and tell me more of the clashing religions. Despite the distance, I'm grateful the man agreed to come.

The most astonishing reports, I believe, are those that some of my healers have been able to... I don't know how to phrase it, not even to myself. They claim they can spontaneously heal the wounded. I'd heard the stories of magic, men able to impress their will upon the world through the ego of our race in flames and light, but to hear priests able to harness these powers for the good of their brothers and sisters... it leaves me speechless. My dear Zhanna believes these powers are your gift to our world, an answer to our prayers. Part of me fears it is her own heart searching for answer, since she too is reportedly able to harness these new powers.

In my heart of hearts, I hope her feeling is correct. I hope her faith is proven strong, but by all the gods and goddesses I'm so afraid for my people. I feel weary to my bones, and I don't see any hope of reprieve. In fact, if my dreams are to be believed, these dark days are only the beginning. It's as if the sun is setting on our land, and the shadows are stretching out over it, slowly taking everything in.

This time Loest did not pause as the passage ended, quickly flipping through the pages for anything of more merit. The pages described recurring dreams of nonsensical ideas, followed by a profound lack of hope for the future. This sadness his father had been experiencing had been hidden well, or perhaps he'd just never noticed it. He'd been so caught up in the rumors and stories floating about, not to mention his own newly discovered abilities, he'd never considered what his father might have been dealing with.

Ignoring the pangs of guilt, he at last settled on a passage that seemed of great importance to his father.

Earthsday the 35th of Stormaan, 999 L.W.

It's been weeks since King Rothem brought a few of the Shadow Crystal to the temple for study, though not us alone. Supposedly he also sent some to the College in Lyth. Honestly, I'm not sure what he expects from a group of healers, but one can only argue so far with a King. I have the utmost respect for the intelligence of those who live in this temple, but it would make more sense to send it to the temples of Zail where the clerics are more accustomed to advanced studies. It seems being a personal friend to someone's father comes with certain expectations.

Irregardless of that, though, is the feeling I get when I'm near the things. Whatever they're made of, whatever allows them to do incredible things they do, I'm not sure I really want to find out. These large stones fill me with an unease my dreams and the recent stories combined could not achieve. Perhaps it's only magnifying them? Either way, they disturb me to the core; a feeling I know I am not alone in.

Several of the priests have expressed disdain for being in the same room with the crystals in multiples; I've actually had them separated into different areas of the library to help diminish this unease. It seems to have helped on some level, but still many are weary of the effects. I've heard some say they just feel 'angry' or 'sad' around them. Others just express a general 'fear' permeating the room. Only Zhanna and Loest seem to be immune to these ill effects among the clergy, which might be the most fearful discovery of them all. Whatever magic Loest had been able to conjure before, with the Crystal at his side the boy could shatter any expectation or belief. Though his present astonishments pale in comparison to whatever these things give to Zhanna.

A man came to us, his foot severed from limb by the plow in his fields days ago. Arada, you have blessed us with an understanding of healing, but the best we could do in days past was to prevent infection and lessen the pain. As a farmer, he would be incapable of earning a living for himself and those who depend upon him, but your teachings would have saved his life. The young priestess couldn't abide this, and offered to try to harness the energies of these new objects into healing the man.

At first I was opposed, but the stubborn girl reminded me that Rothem had wanted these Shadow Crystals studied and understood. Her idea fit with that request, and I was forced to allow her to try. When the man's foot began to reappear, exactly as it would have been had there never been an accident, I knew I'd made the wrong decision. These powers are beyond what the Seven intended us to wield. There has to be a cost, one we've just yet to see.

Combined with my recent dreams, I find everything I learn about the world Balor is becoming only raises more questions. Where are these crystals from? Surely, a power this great is known to someone. If so, are they coming to collect it?

Loest took a deep breath, focusing on the words he'd just read. It was beyond belief, that the answers he so desperately sought might be contained in the pages. It was no wonder Kairos had been sent to collect the book during the attack on the Vale. If his father had been seeing things, it’s possible he might have unraveled the mysteries of this war and the mystical crystals that had started it. That idea spurred him on, and Loest reopened the book to read further. Except there was nothing else.

Whatever pages had comprised the end of the book had been ripped out. Only fragments of pages remained; not enough was left behind to make out even a single word. Though there were likely many answers in those pages, they no longer were within his reach. Rather, now the very foe he'd been seeking to get ahead of now had them. He'd risked his life, and potentially the plans of Gunther's forces, to retrieve this book. He'd risked it all for nothing.

In a fit of rage, Loest hurled the book with all the might he could muster into the brush around him. The rage should have been filling him, consuming him entirely, but instead he just felt empty. His body ached; it'd been weeks since he'd eaten anything that wasn't traveling rations, and he was just so tired. The disappointment was too much to add to all of it. Yet he couldn't just let himself sit here and wallow in it. He had to get moving to a better location, somewhere his pursuers wouldn't immediately kill him while he slept.

Reaching out, he picked up his father's journal, the end of which had been stolen from him. The cover caught on the brush, and he was forced to tug harder than he'd liked to free it. With a grimace, he heard the tear before he could see it. A small section of the leather had separated from the hard binding, creating a small pouch. Loest inspected it carefully; though the book might not hold any strategic value now, it was all he had left of his father and that still meant something. The inspection revealed an unexpected result, though, when he noticed a folded sheet of paper inside.

Gently he freed the paper, taking great effort not to widen the tear, and succeeding for the most part. He unfolded the page slowly, his curiosity at war with his caution. It could easily have been a trap left for him when the book was stolen, a guarantee that any secrets which had been missed would not be found by anyone else, but Loest knew on some instinctive level that it wasn't. Something told him he was meant to find it, exactly as he had. When he at last laid eyes on the scribbled writing of Wizent on the page, he knew his instincts had been right.

Dearest Loest,

There are no words to express how sorry I am for the burden I've placed upon you. Were there any other way, or any other person I could trust to bear it then know that none of the Seven or gods of other nations would have stopped me. Yet only you have the heart and strength to do what will need done, and it is for that reason I've left you these words.

At first I despised the visions that came to me, I believed them a curse. Admittedly, I still would not have envied any man who saw what was to come, but I know Arada gave them to me so that I could help guide you on the path. That came with a sacrifice, but I want you to know I made it willingly. It was the only way you would have survived the attack on our temple, and there exists no man worthy of being called a father who wouldn't do the same.

I know our last goodbye was too short, so I took great pains to ensure this one made it to you. You deserve that, at the least. Yet, it cannot only be sentimental I'm afraid. There is work to be done, and despite the gift of prophecy I had no way to warn the forces that need it. That is the first thing I must ask of you.

You've seen the weapon the Shadow seeks to build. Loest, my son, that weapon will turn their armies into monstrosities we cannot defend against. It will poison Balor to its core, and it will be the moment that ends our world. If the Shadow prevails, we will be unable to defend against what comes next. That is why I put all of my hope and trust in you.

You must warn the human armies, and aid them in the assault to stop this from happening. The cost for victory will be high, but I know you. The price will be paid, and our world will stand a chance for survival. The only hope we have is for our people to find the light to counter the Shadows.

Loest, the things I ask of you are unfair. I know this, and I hope that someday you will forgive me. I love you with all my heart, and though I was not responsible for your birth, know that I am proud of you. You are a better man than any that came before you. I wish, so desperately to write more, to tell you of everything I know, but there is no more time.

As you read this, the wolf-like beasts sent to scout your trail are getting closer. They'll be on you in minutes, but there is time. There is a creek just over the hill to your left, follow it until it ends and then keep going straight. The armies are moving, but you will find them there. This is the last gift I can give you.

With love and hope, Wizent

He wanted so badly to take the time to absorb what had been said, but when a prophet warned you that time was short, it wasn't the best of ideas to delay. Instead Loest stuffed the book and letter back into his bag and broke from his hiding place in a dead run. The words had inspired him and given him what he needed: a reason to keep moving. With them, he was able to push the pain and fatigue back. He wouldn't let his father down, not with something this important. He would run until he made it to the armies. He would warn them of the weapon being built in Fort Balor. He would fight alongside them, and pay any price to protect those who needed it.

He was Loest, son of Wizent.