(iii) The Spread of Darkness
It took one and a half thousand years for the new kingdoms of Men to be founded, and become settled into the rebuilt lands of Erâth. By this time, memory of the First Age was but a legend, and all that remained was the knowledge that there had once been a great disaster, and the world was forever changed. The great wars of Men were forgotten, but what Men now found themselves contending with was the darkness.
The two great manifestations of darkness were, of course, the Duithèn and the Namiren, the races of Darkness and Death. Through them, though, grew terrible and twisted forms of life, and became the creatures of darkness. The Duithèn spread far and wide over the lands, quietly inhabiting Aélûr, and seeking always to spread to Thaeìn and Cathaï. Where they lived, trees grew crooked, and beasts wild-eyed and terrible. The Namirèn, passing from place to place in ghost-like form, took the threads of the Duithèn with them, and brought death wherever they went.
Creatures of Darkness
The creatures of Darkness themselves were many and varied, and only the few that were directly involved in the battles to come will be described here. The Duithèn were responsible, if not for their creation, then at least for their survival, by keeping the places in which they lived poisoned long after the Portèn had passed and tried to restore the lands. Ghastly creatures swam the depths of the seas, and indescribable horrors inhabited the furthest reaches of Golgor, but by this time Men had forgotten the eastern lands, and whatever lived there was doomed there to remain.
In the West, the land of Aélûr became the origin of many of the creatures of darkness. Among these were roaming packs of great wolves, twice the size of their ancient brethren. Their mouths, glistening with razor-sharp fangs, were unnaturally wide, as though they meant to swallow their prey whole, if they could. Their red eyes held a dismal intelligence, one bent only on seeking and ending life. The wolves’ communication was simple, but effective; few Men learned their tongue, and those that did found their speech centered invariably on death.
Also arising from the desolate plains of Aélûr were huge, shambling creatures called monsters. Note that the name refers to this specific creature, and does not apply to other creatures, monstrous though they may seem. In fact, derivatives such as monstrous are a specific reference to these creatures. Some growing to twenty feet tall, the only Men who could contest them were the Reusen, but even then the brute strength of the monsters often proved superior. They could create no weapons, but given a cudgel they could wield it fiercely. They dwelt most often in dank caverns in the high mountains, and were a constant threat to the people of Onderkräag.
Spiders also, and insects of all kinds, were also twisted by the Duithèn, and given venom beyond their natural deadliness. Many grew to enormous sizes, their legs spanning three lengths of Men. Such enormous creatures were yet rare, but the comparatively smaller species were prevalent everywhere, fist-sized bodies with often a dozen or more legs, seeking to live in the warmth of the homes of Men. Only the people of Schärkrûn had mastery of these creatures, using them to defend their own lands.
By far the worst of the creatures of darkness, however, was the skøltar. Descended from the Men of the First Age, these terrible and twisted creatures bore now so little resemblance that they cannot be deemed Men at all. These were the survivors in the most desolate of wastes, on the fringe of the world and the edge of extinction, until the Duithèn found them. Seeing at once a race of Men already terribly deformed from the poison of the great wars, and on the verge of being wiped out, they offered them the chance to survive. The Men took that chance, becoming yet more horrendous over centuries under the influence of the Duithèn. With cracked, blackened skin, ratted hair and unreadable, coal-black eyes, the skøltär are frightening to behold. Though they lack the strength of most Men, they make up for it with sheer rage and fury, and a deep, ancestral hatred of the Men who survived untainted.
The skøltär formed in their own way a sixth kingdom of Aélûr, though their poor and meagre way of living could hardly be called a kingdom. Ranging from central Aélûr to the North, they kept to the shadows, the caves and the depths of forests, avoiding the sunlight where possible. Though not strictly sanguinivorous, skøltär are able to survive on merely the blood of their victims, and often survive in periods of famine by draining each other, in measure. This predilection for blood, and a taste for human flesh, makes the skøltär one of the most terrifying forms of life still remaining in Erâth.
Another curious creature whose existence can be traced to the influence of the Duithèn is the dragon. It is certain there were no dragons in the First Age, and they were there during the second. As a changed form of flying creature, it is certain the Duithèn were involved in at least the creation of these creatures; however, at some point during their development, they made a mistake. Given to the dragons was an intelligence beyond their design, and the dragons threw off the yoke of the Duithèn and named themselves masters of their own.
The dragons lived in the North of Thaeìn, mistrusting of those who ventured near, and feeding on what animals were to be found. The lands in the North of Thaeìn, suffocating and volcanic, was a perfect habitat for these long-lived and rugged creatures of fire, and they thrived, living strong though all of the Second Age. It was only through their association with the Dragon Lords that their existence became known to Men, and their involvement in the battles of darkness at the end of the Second Age was pivotal. It was also the bringing of their doom.
Death was everywhere during much of the Second Age. The age itself was born out of death, with the extinction of almost all Men from Erâth. On into the founding of the new kingdoms of Men, and through their rise and development, death was still ever-present.
It should explained that, naturally, death is everywhere. The ending of life is as natural as its beginning, and this is part of the unchanging cycles of Erâth. Wherever death is not natural, however, the Namirèn are to be found. This race, once the counterpart to the Mirèn and responsible merely for ensuring life did not linger and gave way to new life, now found themselves free to move about the world as they pleased, bringing disease and death with them.
The Namirèn were fewer than the Duithèn (no more than thirty or so existed in Erâth during the Second Age), but they were also wiser and less greedy about the enveloping of Erâth in darkness. They understood that, in order for their own race to continue, life also must continue. The Namirèn’s satisfaction was in the despair of death, and this was something the creatures of darkness did not understand. In order for the agony of death to persist, it was necessary for light to also exist. Life could still exist under the cover of total darkness, but with only creatures born of darkness left in Erâth, despair and torment would cease to exist, and the Namirèn would wither.
It was for this reason that the work of the Namirèn was subtle, but of great import. They largely avoided the Illuèn, who would have challenged them. They ensured the pestilence they brought periodically to Men spread only so far, keeping their races in check while allowing them to survive and recover.
Rumors of spirits of death gradually spread throughout the kingdoms of Men, most keenly felt in the realms of Thaeìn, where the Duithèn and Namirèn perceived the greatest threat to their expansion. The kingdoms of Aélûr were as good as given to darkness as it was, and the countries of Cathaï had grown overconfident in their strength and were easy to persuade. Men claimed to have seen spirits, hooded and cloaked, before or after great deaths or disease. The nature of the Namirèn kept Men from knowing their true presence, though, and dangerous as the rumor of their existence was, rumor it remained.
The Namirèn convinced the Duithèn that light was yet needed in Erâth, and it was for this reason that the Illuèn were able to fend off the forces of darkness for so long, and that it took four thousand years before the darkness finally closed in on the world of Men. Ironically, without the powers of Death, Erâth would have fallen into inescapable shadow long ago, and the Second Age would have likely been the last.
The Namirèn were not benevolent, however. Though they understood the need for light, they could not bear the thought that the kingdoms of Men might one day reach the heights of the First Age, and achieve their lost dream of immortality. Thus is was that, as the Duithèn began to weave their web of darkness around the world of Men, it was the Namirèn who carried the threads across the seas from Aélûr, over Thaeìn, to Cathaï.
The Threads of the Duithèn
It was in Aélûr that the slow corruption of the kingdoms of Men began. It began with the Duithèn darkening the consciousness of the people of Urkûl. Over many lives of kings, their kingdom became more violent, more embittered with the lives they led. They bent their skill increasingly on the forging of great weapons of war, despite having few battles to wage. Instruments of terrible torture became a point of pride, and violating the laws of the country invoked a long, slow and agonizing death. The Duithèn began slowly to reveal themselves to the people of Urkûl, insinuating themselves into the lives of peasants and nobility alike. The kings of Urkûl recognized the power of the Duithèn, and after so many centuries, the work of the Duithèn was successful: they submitted willingly to the forces of darkness.
The Duithèn then turned their attention to the other peoples of Aélûr. Seeking to use the corruption of Urkûl, the Duithèn began to weave threads of darkness throughout the foundations of Erâth. Reaching out from Urkûl, the Namirèn carried these threads between the five kingdoms of Aélûr, binding them together in darkness. One by one, the peoples of Aélûr fell to the Duithèn, and after many centuries, their submission to darkness was total. The Duithèn, who already commanded the creatures of darkness, including the skøltär, were now encouraged by the downfall of the kingdoms of Aélûr, and turned their attention to the remaining lands of Men.
The Duithèn, through the counsel of the Namirèn, sensed that the kingdoms of Thaeìn posed too great a threat to influence directly, and chose instead to focus their attention on the peoples of Cathaï. Again, the Namirèn, acting as messengers of death, carried the threads of the Duithèn far across the seas, over the mountains and plains of Thaeìn, to the shores of Cathaï. Their path was marked by great stretches of black cloud from the West, and in this the Men of Thaeìn first learned of the evil brewing to the West, and now to the East.
The Piren, already a violent realm, was the first to fall. Their attacks on Pulväen grew more frequent and more bloody, and the people of Pulväen soon abandoned their coastal towns for the relative safety of the hills. But to their North, Valdrün was already falling to the influence of the Duithèn, to the dismay of the Portèn, who had long held the people of Valdrün in high regard. The beasts of the forest grew less fierce in Valdrün, and soon the trees were being felled, fires were kindled, and the Portèn, betrayed, watched in horror as the people of Valdrün abandoned the woods and left the forests to die.
Pulväen, however, did not succumb so easily. Masters of healing not just wounds of the flesh but also of the spirit, the Duithèn were unable to infiltrate the nobility of their people, despite repeated efforts. The skies grew dark, the air cold, and the Namirèn brought terrible plagues upon them, but each time the strength of Pulväen returned, renewed by the stoicism of their lords.
It was in this moment that the Namirèn broke one of the founding laws of Erâth, and influenced directly the death of a single people. A plague was visited upon the people of Pulväen, striking down only the nobility, lords and kings. Within a few years, Pulväen was left without royal bloodline, and their people finally succumbed. By the time a new, stronger king emerged, Pulväen was in the grip of the Duithèn. The powers of healing were all but forgotten, and the work of Pulväen became the inventing of ever stronger elixirs of death.