(iv) The Corruption of East and West
So the lands of Aélûr and Cathaï were corrupted by the Duithèn, under the deathly watch of the Namirèn. Eight kingdoms of Men were under the influence of darkness, and tended less to their own, and instead turned to their neighbors and sought to conquer them. Each kingdom saw itself as the one true ruler of their land, and tension began to mount between each realm.
The Duithèn, of course, encouraged this hostility, for it was in their plan in the conquering of Erâth that the kingdoms of the West and the East should mount a unified assault against the lands of Thaeìn. So divided, each kingdom would do nothing more than squabble among themselves; should one kingdom arise dominant, however, that ruler would have the power of an entire continent at their hand. The Duithèn were certain of their success.
The Exile of the Illuèn
Before the dark peoples of Men could be united, though, the Duithèn perceived one force that could yet bar their way. As long as the power of the Illuèn was felt in the realms of Men, the full influence could not be realized, and the beasts of darkness could not come under the dominion of Men. Though the Illuèn dwelt in their greatest numbers in the lands of Thaeìn, populations existed nonetheless in the realms of Aélûr and Cathaï. Throughout the downfall of these kingdoms of these lands, they continued, with increasing difficulty, to keep at bay the creatures of darkness.
The Duithèn could not allow their presence to continue in these lands, but were powerless themselves to battle them. Instead, they began to whisper counsel against the Illuèn to the kings of Aélûr and Cathaï. They planted the seeds of betrayal throughout the realms, suggesting that it was the Illuèn who kept the race of Men from regaining their former glory. The Illuèn, they were told, had become greedy for light and land, and kept the power of knowledge and advancement to themselves. They were keeping the beasts at bay, the Duithèn said, who should be the prize of the kingdoms of Men, and were the ones who were preventing Men from taking back their rightful heritage.
While with one hand the Duithèn deepened the hatred of Men for the Illuèn, with the other they kept the Illuèn themselves occupied with renewed assault by the creatures and beasts of darkness. In so distracting the Illuèn, the Duithèn kept them blind to the slow corruption of Men, and over time, contact between the two races withdrew, and ceased. The Duithèn were careful to allow the Illuèn to keep their power at bay, while renewing the strength of each assault by their wolves and beasts little by little. They so hoped to keep their true intention secret. Nonetheless, the Illuèn, not an unwise race, began gradually to see deeper plotting behind the strength of these attacks, but by then it was too late.
The Illuèn were betrayed by Men, falling unsuspected under attack by the peoples of Aélûr and Cathaï. The dark kingdoms of Men were not yet united, and their battle against the Illuèn was sporadic and ill-planned. It had the desired effect nonetheless. The Illuèn fell swiftly under the sword and axe of Men, entire settlements wiped out overnight. Already overcome with battle against the forces of darkness, the Illuèn found themselves ill-prepared to mount a strong defense against Men. Their long-held sympathy for Men, and their hope for the return of enlightenment, also prevented them from striking at Men with their full might. So astonished were they by these unexpected attacks that some allowed themselves to be hewn down, unresisting.
Slowly, the Illuèn, with great regret, began to fight back. Their skill at battle was not slight, and though the armies of Men outnumbered them greatly, they were still able to defend themselves as they were driven back and out of the lands of Aélûr and Cathaï. The effectiveness of their fighting was such that the kingdoms of Men were taken aback as their armies began to fall under the power of the Illuèn. Finally, there came a standstill in the fighting, neither race able to gain or retreat, and their peoples dying all the while.
So it was that the Illuèn were exiled from the land of Aélûr. In a move that surprised and dismayed the Duithèn, the kingdoms of Aélûr gave the Illuèn the chance to flee their lands without further death on either side. The Duithèn had hoped the race of Men would extinguish the Illuèn forever, but were powerless to change the course of events. The Illuèn, filled with grief that their efforts to return light the kingdoms of Men had failed, left the lands of Aélûr without struggle, and retreated East to the lands of Thaeìn.
The Illuèn of Cathaï were not so lucky. Fewer Illuèn dwelt in this land, and the kingdoms of Pulväen, Valdrün and the Piren were not merciful. They were slaughtered, and only a handful were able to commander a Piren vessel and make the dangerous journey West across the sea to the cliffs of Thaeìn.
The Battles of East & West
With the Illuèn departed from the lands of Aélûr and Cathaï, there was nothing left standing in the way of the Duithèn’s goal of conquest. They stepped back, and the beasts of darkness invaded the lands of Men. These beasts obeyed the commands of Men, and suddenly the people of Schärkrûn, long masters of creatures, no longer had any defense against their neighboring kingdoms. Seeing their chance, the kingdom of Urkûl moved swiftly against them. The king of Urkûl was skilled in the art of war, and small raiding parties were sent into the forests of the South as bait. These small groups of soldiers were swiftly murdered by the Men of Schärkrûn, and encouraged, they emerged from their woodland realms to meet the armies of Urkûl in battle.
What they encountered was a legion beyond their reckoning. Urkûl, long the most populous kingdom of Aélûr, had amassed an army of thousands, and against them the small hunting packs of Schärkrûn stood no chance. They fell in one swift battle, and ceded to Urkûl. The king of Urkûl, seeing the advantage in commanding a people skilled at fighting in close quarters, murdered the lord of Schärkrûn and took their people for his own. The kingdom of Schärkrûn was no more, and their people slaves of Urkûl.
With their armies swollen now with these new soldiers, Urkûl now turned to the kingdom of Onderkräag. But these people of the underground were not so easy to conquer; hidden deep under the mountains, the realm of the deep was theirs, and no soldier of Urkûl was a match in their own territory. Used to surviving in their caverns, the people of Onderkräag had no use for the outside world, and the attacks of Urkûl failed time after time.
Frustrated, the king of Urkûl turned to the Fire Lords. Sensing that conquest of these powerful people would be difficult, if not impossible, an offer of alliance was instead offered; in exchange for aiding Urkûl in the conquest of all the kingdoms of Aélûr, the Fire Lords would rule side by side with the kingdom of Urkûl. The Fire Lords, eager for power, consented, and bent their power on the people of Onderkräag. They dug great tunnels through the mountains from the North, vast channels for the liquid fire and rock to flow freely through. For many years these tunnels were extended and lengthened, until they reached all the way South to Onderkräag.
The plan succeeded; as lava burst forth into the underground caverns of Onderkräag, the people fled in terror, emerging from the mountains into the waiting arms of the soldiers of Urkûl. Many turned to flee back into their caves, and perished in the flames, while some fewer stood to fight. Like Schärkrûn, in the open they stood no chance. They were quickly decimated, and those who surrendered were enslaved.
The king of Urkûl was yet deceitful, even to the Fire Lords who had aided him in the conquering of Onderkräag. In secret, he sent missionaries to the Reusen, giant people of the East. A simple folk, it was a simple enough matter to fill the Reusen with falsehoods about the Fire Lords, and how they sought to destroy them after they finished with the Onderkräag. The Reusen, enraged, vowed vengeance on the Fire Lords, and as these people returned victorious from their battle with Onderkräag, they were set upon by the violent giants of the East.
Caught off guard, the Fire Lords fought back, and their war was great and terrible. The Fire Lords had the command of flame on their side, and the burned carcasses of hundreds of Reusen littered the battlefields. Against their brute strength, however, the Fire Lords were evenly matched. Fueled by the lies of Urkûl, the Reusen had also on their side the rage and strength of will to bring an end to the Fire Lords for once and for all. Beaten back battle after battle, the Fire Lords called on Urkûl for aid…and it did not come. The king of Urkûl watched as the two remaining powers of Aélûr decimated each other, until, weakened terribly, the king of the Fire Lords submitted again to Urkûl, pledging subservience to their race in exchange for protection from the Reusen. The king of Urkûl consented, and promptly murdered the king of the Fire Lords.
The Reusen, indebted to Urkûl for the destruction of the king of the Fire Lords, offered a supplication of peace and alliance between their two people. The king of Urkûl looked to the Reusen, and then to his combined armies of four kingdoms of Men, and accepted nothing less than total submission.
In the East, the kingdoms of Cathaï battled also. The Piren, masters of sea but not of land, intensified their attacks against the coastal towns of Pulväen, but the new lords of Pulväen conceded these battles willingly, knowing the Piren would not venture inland where their skills in battle were not well formed. Instead, the people of Pulväen turned their focus on Valdrün in the North, and brought assault after assault upon them.
Though the soldiers of Valdrün were quick, light-footed and sure-sighted with bow and arrow, the armies of Pulväen, masters of potions of death, fought with poison blade, and slingshots that launched satchels of a burning liquid that exploded where it landed, decaying within minutes all that it touched. The horror of such weapons was a terror in battle, and the nerve of Valdrün’s soldiers shaken, their people fell in short measure.
The Piren were a more difficult matter. Seeing that Pulväen had already conquered the people of Valdrün, their own nerve faltered, and they retreated to the safety of their island cities. They were safe here; no one commanded the seas as they did, and any ship that ventured forth from the lands of Cathaï met its doom at the bottom of the sea almost as it sighted the first lands of the Piren. The lords of Pulväen, enraged that they should be so thwarted, commanded their armies to discover novel ways of dealing out death, and the hand-held slingshots of the battlefields soon evolved into enormous trebuchets twenty feet high, capable of launching burning casks of poison half a league or more. Raining death upon the Piren from afar, Pulväen was assured of their victory. The ruler of the Piren folded, and gave command of their fleets and soldiers to the lords of Pulväen.
The Two Great Powers of Darkness
So it was that two great powers of darkness rose in the West and the East: the united armies of Urkûl in the West and Pulväen in the East. On either side of Thaeìn, the last refuge of light, the great powers of darkness began to mount.
In Urkûl, great towers were soon raised, bastions of black rock and steel towering high over the hills and plains below. The greatest of these was Vira Dûthna, the city of Black Death. Spires reached high to the ever-clouded skies, and twisted gargoyles loomed down on the stone city below. In the highest of these towers, the king of Urkûl, Goroth, lorded over his subjects, and bent his thoughts on gaining ever more power.
Soon, the wolves and ravens roamed freely through the lands of Urkûl, unheeded by Men who killed and were killed by each other. Death became as common a part of life as breathing, and small, pitiful battles rose and fell across the lands. Before long, the Men of Urkûl had sought out the monsters in the high mountains, trapping them with ropes and fire and dragging them to the plains below, where their great strength was put to labor and the building of machines of death.
Even the skøltär, sensing the overwhelming darkness in the kingdoms of Men in Aélûr, rose out of their caves and descended from the mountains, and fell upon the Men of Urkûl. Urkûl, in the grip of darkness, no longer feared these twisted creatures, and dealt destruction upon them even as they swept off to feast on the blood of their soldiers. Soon, great battles of hate raged between Urkûl and the skøltär. All the while, Goroth saw the deadly violence of the skøltär, and longed to have them also under his command.
In Cathaï, events also darkened in Pulväen. Once lords of healing, the new masters of Pulväen now sought only the destruction of those who opposed them. As the Men of Cathaï fell under their command, Pulväen’s lords tightened their tyranny, and all who dwelt in Cathaï lived in terror. The art of potions were outlawed from the lands, reserved for the alchemists of the capitol city, Gift. A terrifying legion of soldiers arose, patrolling the lands with tainted blades and satchels of poison that could be hurled using slings through the windows of houses, bringing death to those within. These soldiers, Pulväen’s law, were unchecked, and wherever they went, they brought death. Before long, the fear of the people of Pulväen turned to bitterness, and to hatred. Unable to rise against the power of the nobility, they turned on themselves, fighting and killing at the slightest provocation.
The skies over Pulväen grew also dark, and the threads of the Duithèn, trailing dark clouds over hundreds of leagues between Aélûr and Cathaï, grew ever stronger. The Namirèn went freely through these lands, observing their work and encouraging battle wherever they could. The Duithèn, for their part, saw the success of their twisting of Men, and turned their attention now to the countries of Thaeìn. They knew the onslaught of Thaeìn would be long, and though the corruption of Aélûr and Cathaï was complete, these peoples of these lands were too divided to yet pose a great threat to the remaining kingdoms of Men.
As the Duithèn began to work their influence into the lands of Thaeìn, they also knitted their threads of darkness between Aélûr and Cathaï ever tighter. Goroth and the lords of Pulväen became aware of each other, and saw in each a kindred of bitterness, and hate for the remaining Men who dared to live in light. Goroth began to muster an army, and brought all the Men of Urkûl together under pain of death, along with the wolves and monsters. He approached the skøltär, and made them an offering: aid Urkûl in their conquest of the kingdoms of Thaeìn, and in turn all that land would be theirs, and the Men of Thaeìn theirs to feast upon for as long as they should dwell there. He did not speak to them of Pulväen, and their plans to invade Thaeìn from the East.
In Cathaï, the lords of Pulväen compelled the Men of the Piren to build ever larger ships of war, made for the voyage of three hundred leagues to the shores of Thaeìn. Soon, gargantuan vessels, five hundred feet long with masts a hundred feet high and sails of black canvas were constructed, towering trebuchets poised on their decks to launch drums of vile potion at their enemies.
In the far lands of Aélûr and Cathaï, the stage was set for a vast assault upon the last kingdom of light in Erâth.
The Resistance of Thaeìn
Meanwhile, the Duithèn moved upon Thaeìn, hoping to weaken their kingdoms, if not twist them to darkness as they did in Aélûr and Cathaï. They were prepared for resistance; the Namirèn had warned them of the influence of light in these lands, and they had not forgotten the presence of the Illuèn in Thaeìn, banished as they had been from Aélûr and Cathaï. They were dismayed to find the peoples of Thaeìn resistant to much greater extent than they had anticipated.
The Duithèn first approached the Dragon Lords of the North, aware that the dragons themselves were a product of the darkness, and sure that bringing them to their side would be a simple matter. The Dragon Lords, indeed, should be in the grip of darkness as it was, living side by side with such beasts of power, and dwelling in lands all but forsaken by living things, given over instead to volcanoes and ash.
What the Duithèn found instead was that, while the Dragon Lords were indeed inclined towards darkness, it was a darkness not of their making. This was unheard of; the Duithèn had been responsible for all darkness in Erâth since the birth of the world, with the Illuèn the only beings able to oppose them directly. To encounter a race of darkness that was yet not within their power was inconceivable. The Dragon Lords faced the Duithèn, looked them in the eye, and turned their backs.
Enraged, the Duithèn turned their efforts on the Dragons themselves, once again sure that such creatures of power and darkness must be under their influence. The Dragons were unimpressed; too cunning to be fooled by the Duithèn, they were loyal to their kin in Men, who had stood by them for some two and a half thousand years, taking their defense of their kingdom and repaying it in offerings of livestock and shelter. The Duithèn were driven back, unable to break through the indifference of the Fire Lords and their Dragons.
Leaving the Dragon Lords in fury, the Duithèn turned their efforts South, to the mountain kingdom of Hochträe. Here too, they met unexpected resistance. Hochträe, devoted to peace and enlightenment, did not fight the Duithèn, and in this itself were able to resist their influence. The Duithèn could not darken their vision, nor twist the counsel of their priests. The people of Hochträe smiled at the Duithèn and, like the Fire Lords before them, turned their backs to the Duithèn.
Vowing to destroy the Hochträe through the violence of the Men of Aélûr and Cathaï, the Duithèn descended from the mountains upon the kingdoms of Kiriün and Erârün. These peoples did not possess the impenetrable indifference of darkness of the Fire Lords, nor the incorruptible philosophy of Hochträe, and rightly feared the Duithèn. But the will of these Men is strong, and they fought the Duithèn and did not let their fear turn to hate. The king of Erârün, Daevàr, had a cunning sense and mind as unbreakable as the stone of which his city was founded, and he put faith in his people to obey their laws and not give in to the fear and darkness.
But the Duithèn, enraged by their failure to corrupt two of the kingdoms of Thaeìn, spent all their strength of darkness on Erârün and Kiriün, and slowly, the people of these kingdoms found themselves with failing mood, and despair began to creep into the hearts of these Men. The Duithèn, sensing their success, turned their attention to the lands of Aélûr and Cathaï, and found their armies ready. Thaeìn was ripe to fall.