The ending of the War of Darkness marked the ending of the Second Age of Erâth. The world was much weakened by the losses of war, but there was also gladness in the hearts of men, at least for a time, and the darkness of the Duithèn left their lands.
So began the Third Age of Erâth, at the end of which the events described in this book occur. The Third Age lasted for some three and a half thousand years, and saw the fall of all but a few kingdoms of men, and the origins of Changelessness, as brought about by the Sarâthen. Yet the powers of Darkness were not defeated entirely, and were able through the diminishing of the Illuèn to eventually regain their strength.
(i) The Fate of Darkness
The Undeath of Goroth
With the demise of Goroth, in whom the Duithèn had vested so much power, the race of Darkness was greatly weakened, and went into the West. Yet they were not destroyed, for it is not in the power of Men to kill those of the race of Darkness. Many other changes there were also, and while darkness did not leave the lands of men, it was a darkness of their own making, and not that of the Duithèn.
Goroth had been the Dark King of Urkûl for many centuries, since the overthrowing of the other powers of Aélûr. The power of the Duithèn had extended his life far beyond the range of his mortal flesh, and given to him unnatural strength of body and of will. Despite their terrible appearance as formless black knights, the Duithèn were yet powerless to harm any living thing on Erâth. It was then through Goroth that they were able to achieve a destruction greater than they themselves could have attained. For hundreds of years, the Duithèn poured their power into him, until what had begun as a man, though cruel one, turned to a very demon of darkness, able to influence all other creatures of darkness and bend them to his will.
The circumstances of his defeat in the battle of the Bridge of Aélûr, then, were curious; Goroth should not have been so easily overcome by the men of Thaeìn, and it was indeed only the combined forces of Dragon and man that were able to defeat him. That such a union should occur at precisely the moment when Goroth was vulnerable is unlikely, and while some have since claimed it was fate that set these events together, others see in it the subtle influence of the Sarâthen, trying to right the wrongs of the Duithèn.
In any case, the power of Goroth was too great to be defeated by a mere sword of men, or even by the fire of Dragon. As the Duithèn fled, Goroth’s body crumbled, and with it the Bridge of Aélûr, and bore him to the bottom of the sea. His power dissipated from his body, and as his flesh decayed, his spirit nonetheless endured, poisoning the waters that flowed south, and turned all the western seas black. Thin as his spirit became, it was not destroyed, and indeed the further it spread, the more impossible it would be to harm, much as the Portèn cannot be defeated by the burning of one forest.
Drowned, too, was Goroth’s sword, Namrâth. This terrible blade, forged by the Fire Lords from Urkûlian steel, had in it the same power of Darkness as Goroth himself, and contained besides the strength of will of all those it had slain. It could not so easily be destroyed, and drifted through the Third Age on the currents of the Sea of Aélûr, and for nearly two and half thousand years, it was forgotten. But it was not lost, and it was its memory, threaded through the age, that allowed for the Duithèn and the powers of darkness to once more begin to regain their strength.
Dissolution of Urkûl
For many thousands of years, Goroth’s presence was felt in the lands of Aélûr, but not in strength enough to rebuild his kingdom. The men and other races of Aélûr found themselves isolated in a vast, dark land, bereft of the strength given to them by their lord and the Duithèn. The peoples of Aélûr fell to warring amongst themselves, and as old commanders of the War fought to gain control over the divided people of Aélûr, the men of that land suddenly found themselves also in the midst of a great host of creatures that no longer saw reason to ally themselves with men.
Skøltär, monsters and wolves began to prey on the remaining men of Aélûr, and the kingdom of Urkûl was rightly split as the men began to seek shelter from these threats. The old kingdoms of Aélûr could not be restored; each had given too much to Darkness to regain strength enough to found a new kingdom, and the Fire Lords, Reusen, and the men of Schärkrûn and Onderkräag fled in chaos, departing the old cities where the creatures of Aélûr awaited them. They turned to the hills, the twisted forests and the caves of old, hiding in fear from the beasts and fighting amongst themselves all the while.
Over time, the men of Aélûr diminished greatly in number, and were no longer the dominant race. The wolves were content to hunt, the monsters too slow to pose a great threat, and so it was that the skøltär inherited the lands of Aélûr, and filled the North with their kin. Requiring little sustenance, and even that in the form of flesh and blood, nothing was cultivated any more in that land, and the grasses and fields turned to weed, and then to dust as the dark clouds hung evermore overhead. Many of the forests lost their leaves, and their trees died, reaching their clawing branches as though in desperation. The fires of the North grew ever more active, and molten rock flowed regularly across the landscape, and the earth was covered in obsidian rock.
The men of Aélûr had ever been susceptible to darkness, and the influence of the Duithèn over so many centuries could not be undone. Even now, without their presence, the men of this country were not released from darkness, and lived in the dim shadows, filled with bitterness and hatred. Over time, the target of their hate faded from memory, and the kingdoms of Thaeìn were forgotten. Their darkness of mind, however, did not wither, and if anything they turned ever more inward on themselves, until their eyes saw the world darker than it was, and life had no longer any value. They ware able only to gather in small groups, and lived like beasts, younger men rivaling their elders for the dominant place in the pack. These small groups seldom interacted, and when they did they outcome was inevitably bloody.
All the while, the men of Aélûr evaded the monsters and wolves that now roamed freely across the lands, and fell prey to the stealthy skøltär, who built to themselves a new empire. The cities of Aélûr, once great towers of steel and black stone, crumbled and fell, and the beasts dwelled in their ruins. The power of Goroth passed into legend and then myth, and was then all but forgotten.
Races of Darkness in Thaeìn
It was not only in Aélûr that Darkness remained. When the Bridge of Aélûr fell, many thousands of the army of Darkness was yet in the lands of Thaeìn, and when Goroth was defeated, they fled into the mountains, and many escaped death from Daevàr and the peoples of Thaeìn. These were not men only that lived on in Thaeìn, but wolves, too, and some number of skøltär. It was thus that Thaeìn was forever touched by Darkness, even after the demise of Goroth, the departing of the Duithèn and the ruin of Urkûl.
The dark men from Aélûr did not form rightly a kingdom, but lived much as their kin across the sea in Aélûr did, banding together in small packs, surviving in the harsh cold and rock of the Reinkraag. For the most part, they moved gradually north, as far as the borders of the lands of the Dragon Lords, where for some time the Dragons kept them out. Such was their fear of Dragons that even after the power of the Dragon Lords was spent, the northernmost lands of Thaeìn remained uninhabited by man or beast.
The numbers of skøltär and other beasts in Thaeìn was not as great as in Aélûr, and they were able only to sustain themselves, and did not grow greatly in population. The skøltär of Thaeìn took to living under the mountains, unused to the brighter light of this new land, and emerged only at night to feed on what animals they could find. Their preference for the flesh of men did not diminish, but they were seldom able to seek out men to feast on, and the men of the north grew in strength such that they were able for the most part to defend themselves.
The wolves roamed wild throughout the mountains, and became infrequently seen. Monsters, too, became unknown, though some did survive in the wilds and the mountains. Eventually, much of the Reinkraag filled with dark creatures, driving out what other creatures of light may have yet remained. To the East, the people of Hochträe, who had abstained from the War of Darkness in the belief that their devotion to light would keep them safe, now found themselves beset by the very creatures of Darkness they had so long ago refused to fight. They now found themselves with little choice, and with no aid forthcoming from the kingdoms of Erârün and Kiriün, who by now were in decline, they had quickly to master the art of battle.
It turned out this was not difficult, and the priests of that kingdom had the discipline of the greatest warriors of any other kingdom. The people of Hochträe crafted warning systems, great structures of light and mirrors atop the highest peaks, and were able to send communication of advancing threats great distances through the mountains. When wolves, or skøltär, or even men of darkness, arrived within their realm, they found themselves facing an army awaiting them – one intimately familiar with the snow and rock, and availed of vessels that floated high overheard, from which their archers could fire down upon them, yet out of range of their own bows. The races of Darkness in Thaeìn soon learned that the East was too great a danger, and the Hochträe were for the most part left in peace.
The Departure of the Duithèn
Much of the downfall of the kingdom of Urkûl and the men of Aélûr resulted from the departing of the Duithèn. The Duithèn had vested too much of their strength in Goroth as their emissary of Darkness, and with his demise, their strength was also vanquished. They fled from the field of battle, their black armor left where they had stood, and moved far West. Their departure broke the threads they had so long ago spun between Aélûr and Cathaï, and the black clouds were finally lifted from Thaeìn. Aélûr, too long a land of Darkness, was nonetheless left to fall further into decay, but Cathaï, stronghold of the Portèn, was now free of the influence of the Duithèn.
The men of Cathaï, though, had vested too much in the conquest of Thaeìn, and with the destruction of their fleet by the Duithèn themselves, their own kingdoms fell also. The union of Pulväen, the Valdrün and the Piren had been borne out of fear of Pulväen’s mastery of poison, and as this skill was forgotten, the three kingdoms broke apart and lived the rest of their days in isolation. Those days were not long; within five hundred years all three kingdoms of Cathaï were in ruin, and not a man lives there to this day. The Portèn remain, and it is now the only place in Erâth that is as whole as during the First Age.
In the West, the Duithèn found themselves outside of the influence of all else living in Erâth, and gathered themselves. For centuries, their weakness persisted, and they could not even turn the seas black or wither the plants around them. Their resentment of Men, the other races of power, and Erâth itself, deepened in their isolation. It is likely in time they should have faded entirely from Erâth; the fate then of the world would have been very different.
But the bestowing of their powers in Goroth, though it proved the vehicle for their defeat during the War of Darkness, was in itself also their resurrection. With Goroth’s dying vow, the Duithèn were preserved, so that should Goroth once more be able to take form, their own power would return, and they so also vowed that the lands of Erâth would one day be theirs.
Several times, the Sarâthen and even the Illuèn attempted to confer with the Duithèn, seeking to renew the ancient alliances of the First Age, before the downfall of men, when each of the races of power understood the value and necessity of the other. The Mirèn were gone, they said, but the remaining powers of Erâth could yet work together to make the world right once more.
But the Duithèn would not hear them. Their greed, their hunger and their malice had grown too strong, and they saw the words of these races as deception, an attempt to destroy them forever. They turned their backs on the Sarâthen and the Illuèn, and would not speak to them. The Illuèn were unsurprised, and contented themselves to leave the Duithèn to their ruin. The Sarâthen were unsettled, however, knowing that without the Duithèn’s aid, Erâth would not be set right. They turned, troubled, to the making of other plans to maintain the balance of Erâth.