The Withering

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Throughout the Age of Might, humans became a dominant force for expansion and conquest, driven as they were by short lifespans and a high tolerance for risk in the face of it all the while the older races were still reeling from the massive Dragon Wars that had thinned their numbers and power considerably.

That humans were exceptionally ambitious also made them especially susceptible to corruption. For those powerful pre-Dawn beings that dwell beneath the flesh of the earth, this has always been a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of their many machinations to encroach on the World Above.

Raath was the first such being to succumb to this corruption, his pact so binding and complete that his being actually became merged with that of one of the great beings of the World Below. But his corruption took centuries to manifest, his patience nearly infinite. Others in that abyssal realm were not so calculating.

It only took a thousand years into the Age of Might before that which was bubbling beneath emerged full force into the World Above. Dabbling in forces much more powerful than he ever hoped to imagine, Grand Dynast Zelgius, 33rd king of Amon Anurk, singlehandedly obliterated the first human city-state.

Amon Anurk had thrived as the pinnacle of human achievement and wealth for a thousand years, but the corruption would taint even its gilded spires. Zelgius is widely regarded as the first warlock of Thune. Though mortal men had made pacts with dark forces in the past, none had achieved such a bargain that brought the full force of the World Below upon the face of Thune. Tempted with great power by the demonic prince Avernasus, Zelgius decided he would bolster his army with a legion of devils from the underworld, intent on conquering a rival city-state. Completing his ritual and sealing his pact, the ground itself was split beneath the rival city, the sky rent with red lightning, fire, and clouds so black they blotted out the sun. What the fire and plagues did not destroy, the mass of fiends finished. So terrible and complete was their work that none would utter the name of the city-state that was decimated, its name now lost to memory.

But the victory would be short-lived for Amon Anurk, for Avernasus would come to collect his payment with the blood of its citizens. At first, what had been known for a millennium as the greatest of human achievements was now a corrupt place of death cults, human sacrifice, and a breaking down of all order and security within its walls. At first these happenings occurred only in the deepest of shadows in the antechambers of secreted halls, but as the bloodthirsty Avernasus yearned for more and more blood of innocent men, soon the city became a prison patrolled by press gangs who would round up the first born sons and the virgin daughters of even the noble households to slake the demon lord’s grim thirst.

As Avernasus’ influence spread, the city started to waste away in an event known as the Withering. Soon the life was sucked out of Amon Anurk and Zelgius looked beyond the walls of his city-state for new conquests. Plague and pestilence spread across the human kingdoms, new fissures split the ground, cleaved mountains, and shredded the sky.

Those from the various kingdoms who had survived by fighting their way through the hordes and taint they carried with them gathered on the craggy slopes of Loengard and made a pact to unite and face the Withering head on. Many fell but the force breached Zelgius’ defenses and finally came to confront the warlock himself. Weakened from his command, the warriors captured him, unsure if his death would prove worse than keeping him alive, given the forces intertwined with his being.

The warriors brought Zelgius before the archmages of the Imperium Nonus. Deeming Zelgius too dangerous to execute outright, they instead performed a ritual that would sever his link with Avernasus and with sorcery altogether by forcibly ripping him from aether itself. They then released him to the wilderness, making Zelgius the first of the Avulsed—magic-users whose ability to perform sorcery is torn from them like a gelded horse. This would be a technique the Imperium Nonus would perform many more times throughout history when dealing with magic-users—particularly sorcerers—who posed a great enough threat that execution would not suffice.

Severed from Zelgius, Avernasus became enraged and with his last decree from deep in the World Below, ordered the fiendish host to consume and level what remained of Amon Anurk, laying waste to the great First City. In short order, the routes to the city were closed, its location wiped from cartographer’s maps, and its wealth and power only the tales of bards in distant lands.

The warriors who had met in the stony crags of Loengard decided that they could never let a fate befall humanity on such a scale again. Together they formed the Empyrean Watch—a legion of dedicated warriors who would keep an eye to the skies and their ears to the ground in an effort to prevent fiends from the World Below from ever rising again in such a force. The history of the Dragon Wars were all well-documented and avoiding such devastation again became their chief duty from then on.

Over the centuries they fought small skirmishes against magic-users or other rulers who dabbled again in demonic forces, but no amount of devastation ever again arose until the Cataclysm that came at the end of the Age of Strife—but that destruction was beyond even the will and power of the Empyrean Watch to face and, like most things in that great Cataclysm, they became a memory only recalled in the mournful dirges of despondent minstrels and storytellers.

The Withering

Thune: Age of Woe Xttapalotakettle