(vi) The Building of the End of the World
With the return of the Duithèn and the rebuilding of the kingdoms of Darkness, the men of Thaeìn were now facing the very end of their world. Their own strength had waned greatly since the end of the Second Age, and it appeared they would not last long against the storm that was now gathering against them.
What little hope remained was in that the Bridge of Aélûr remained broken, and so there was no connection yet between the kingdoms of Aélûr and Thaeìn. As such, it was impossible for the men of Aélûr and their terrible allies to reinforce the forces of Thaeìn; though together they might well crush the kingdoms of men swiftly, separate their strength was not yet great.
It was the hope of the Duithèn that the finding of Namrâth might change all this.
Fortresses of Urkûl and Dûnra
The Duithèn were enraged when the lords of the skøltär would not aid them in their quest for Namrâth. They threatened to destroy their new kingdom and turn their own subjects against them, but the lords of the skøltär laughed and called them spirits of the air, and said that their subjects were already against them. Furious at the truth of their words and at their own impotence, the Duithèn demanded that they build them instead a dark tower, that they might regain physical form and search for Namrâth themselves.
To this the lords of the skøltär consented, for they desired to reign from a great height upon their people, and were discontent with the poor construction of the skøltär’s buildings. So construction was begun, and it took many ages. From many leagues’ distance, skøltär hauled black stone across valley and hill, through the bleak and barren plains of the North, to become part of the tower of Dûnra that would come to dominate the north of Thaeìn. Ever higher it rose, and its honed spires and razor-sharp buttresses were formidable and dominating. Terrible gargoyles leered out from every corner, demonic likenesses of the skøltär themselves, yet more terrible than any skøltar that had ever walked in Erâth.
As Dûnra was being constructed, the Duithèn turned their consideration to the returning of Goroth, and saw that Aélûr had need also of a great bastion of darkness, so that the dark king of Urkûl might once more take form and rule the men of Darkness. They journeyed once more to Aélûr, and came down upon the men of that land, and told them that the kingdom of Urkûl would be once more. The men of that land were incited, for though they had indeed reclaimed their lands in Aélûr from the creatures of Darkness that had for so long terrified them, they dwelt yet in the ruins of their past cities, and did not rebuild. They had no rightful kingdom, and existed merely from day to day, keeping at bay the wolves and fighting among themselves.
The Duithèn spoke to them of the coming of Goroth, and the name returned to the men of Aélûr and inspired terror in them. They spoke of his wrath, and commanded them to build a new city, glorious and dark, worthy of the return of their king. And so it was the men of Aélûr began to rebuild the crumbled kingdom of Urkûl, while their king was yet undead.
Soon, a great tower of the West grew, twisted sister to Dûnra, and was called Svarûl, the Black Stone. The men of Aélûr set it against the very mountains of fire in the north of Aélûr, where had once been the dominion of the Fire Lords. The fires fueled the forges and the smithies, and the stone of Svarûl was of obsidian, and had the appearance of an awful black glass that absorbed more light than it reflected, and was capped by three prongs that pointed high to the ever black and clouded skies of Aélûr. The tower of Svarûl was colossal, and terrible, and great.
So the Duithèn left Aélûr for the last time, and knew that Goroth would continue their reign of terror and Darkness in Aélûr as he slowly regained his strength in the tower of Urkûl. They returned to Thaeìn, and to Dûnra, and bade their time until the day they could take their own physical form once more, and seek out Namrâth. They knew that, even if Goroth were to recover all his strength lost from his defeat in the War of Darkness, he could not leave the tower of Svarûl unless he were to wield once more his dark blade. Should this be placed in his hand, he would then lead his armies into Thaeìn, upon the kingdoms of the South, and so bring Darkness to the last corners of Erâth.
Clouding of the Sarâthen
As the Duithèn’s strength grew, and Darkness slowly crept back into the West, the rest of the world of Erâth continued on, oblivious to their coming doom. The kingdom of men would not have noticed, regardless, so ensnared in Changelessness were they; but the Illuèn and the Sarâthen, who had remained in Erâth specifically to maintain the balance of the world and prevent a second rising of Darkness, should have been aware of the Duithèn’s return, and moved against them in due time.
But the Duithèn had grown in cunning during their long isolation, and saw now that a brunt attack on the kingdoms of light would fail, as it had once before. They must preserve the illusion of their defeat as long as possible, until their full strength was renewed.
In part, this was achieved by the subtlety and aching slowness of their return; over many centuries was the kingdom of Urkûl restored, and the towers of Svarûl and Dûnra built, and all the while the Duithèn kept the races of Darkness secret, preventing them from trespassing into the lands of men or Illuèn. Distance separated Aélûr from Thaeìn, where the last of the Sarâthen now dwelt, but the kingdom of skøltär in Thaeìn was more dangerous, and it was for this reason the Duithèn chose to remain in this land as the tower of Dûnra was built. They knew the skøltär were violent and impetuous, and might launch an assault upon the kingdoms of men long before they were ready.
But the Duithèn this in itself would not be enough, for the Sarâthen were ever vigilant, and knew much of what transpired in the wider world of Erâth. With every year that passed and the might of Darkness mounted, the risk grew of the Sarâthen becoming aware of their efforts. So the Duithèn drew a shroud of darkness over themselves and their kingdoms, a dark cloud through which little could be seen. This cloud of Darkness enveloped the skøltär’s kingdom in Thaeìn, and Urkûl in Aélûr, and had twofold effect of darkening ever more the vision of the creatures who lived therein, and obscuring the view of the Sarâthen and all other creatures from without.
So it was that the Sarâthen were prevented from recognizing the threat of Darkness from the West and North for many years, until it was late and the Duithèn were upon them. Initially, the Sarâthen were entirely unaware of the Duithèn’s return, and continued to keep their focus on the kingdoms of men, for whom they were greatly concerned as the continued to decline into an uncaring and unchanging existence. Such was not as the Sarâthen had intended, but they remained true to their vow to no longer interfere with the development of men.
After some great time, however, the cloud of the Duithèn became strong, and the Sarâthen slowly grew aware of the stirrings of unrest in the North and West. Yet when they focused their attention on these places, they could see little through the impenetrable fog of the Duithèn. They did not see the race of Darkness, and perceived only that the skøltär, whom they knew dwelt in the North, had grown in strength and formed a kingdom of sorts for their very own. This in itself was cause for concern, but the Sarâthen did not yet see the Duithèn behind them, and for many years continued to ignore the growth of the skøltär, except for a glance now and then to ensure they did not trespass beyond their boundaries. While they did not, the Sarâthen maintained their attention on the kingdoms of men.
The Illuèn Begin to Depart
The shrouds constructed by the Duithèn were so effective that the Illuèn also were unaware of their return, and their renewed strength. It happened that it was around this time that the Illuèn began to leave Erâth. Their promise to the Sarâthen, that they would remain in Erâth for yet some age to ensure the Duithèn did not regain power, was fulfilled, and they now looked to the next stage of their journey, beyond the lands of Erâth itself.
The beginning of their departure was unremarkable, and at first went largely unnoticed. Often alone, a solitary Illuèn would be quite suddenly overcome, and fall to their knees, their eyes transfixed on the sky above them. Frozen in this position for several minutes on end, they would begin to fade, becoming increasingly less visible in the world around them. This process would take some time, and varied by the individual; it was known for some Illuèn to take several days to depart entirely, though for many of them it was a matter of only a few moments. Towards the end of their fading, as they were nearly gone from the world entirely, they would be quite abruptly enveloped in blinding white light. As this light faded, they would be no more.
The departure of any one Illuèn was seemingly random; no single Illuèn knew whether at any moment they might be taken by the fading, and leave the world of Erâth. It was not common, at first; perhaps only a single member of their race might depart each year, and there were period of some decades where not a single Illuèn was chosen to go. If there was a plan to the choosing, it was not of their own making. It was intended that the complete departure of the Illuèn would take some thousands of years, and the Illuèn were thus unperturbed; each knew there was a great chance they may continue to live in Erâth for some many years to come.
The Illuèn did not dread their departure, of course; it was an event they had been looking forward to since before the beginning of the Third Age. It was only their promise to the Sarâthen that had stayed them from leaving long before. The fading was not painful, but rapturous; should one be taken in the company of others, they would gather to bid them a fond farewell and good tidings as they left the world. If someone simply did not return from the wilds, they were remembered and blessed in their parting. It was the closest thing to death for this race of light, for the Illuèn do not die naturally; only the hand of an enemy may smite them in battle, and even then this merely hastens their departure from Erâth.
It is tragic, then, that the Duithèn were able to maintain the subtlety and secrecy of their return, for had the Illuèn known of their resurrection, they would had delayed their departure so that they might aid Thaeìn in resisting their Darkness. But they did not know, and it was indeed their very departure that hastened the rebuilding of the Duithèn and the kingdoms of darkness. In the nature of Changelessness, Erâth necessitated balance, and with the lessening of the power of light, so must the power of darkness increase, and maintain balance.
The Duithèn themselves were not aware of the Illuèn’s departure, either, and it was in this dreadful ignorance of both races that their strengthening was made so potent and swift. Had the Duithèn known of the Illuèn’s departure, they might well have moved too hastily, and exposed themselves to the Sarâthen and the Illuèn, and thus precipitated their own doom. Likewise, had the Illuèn known of the Duithèn’s return, they would have not left Erâth, and remained and challenged the Duithèn directly. So it was that the very nature of Changelessness in Erâth brought about the rise of Darkness and the doom of all men, and the Sarâthen who remained in Erâth lived ever more in deep regret and shame over what they had wrought on the world.
The Blindness of Men
As the Duithèn grew close to regaining their full strength, their Darkness could not be concealed fully any longer. Aimed primarily at the other races of power, the Duithèn had not taken such precautions to conceal themselves from the race of men, believing them too weak to pose any threat against them. Sadly, they were very much correct.
Rumor soon grew in the kingdoms of men – Hochträe as well as Erârün and Kiriün – of a growing darkness in the North. They knew nothing, of course, of the great and terrible armies massing now far to the West in the lands of Aélûr, but the surge of the skøltär in Thaeìn should have been cause enough for alarm. But it was not so.
As always, the Hochträe saw the Darkness and turned from it, seeking their own sanctuary among themselves and the mountains. They knew they had the capability of repelling the skøltär and wolves should they once more encroach upon their lands, as they had done so many thousands of years ago, and felt no fear of Darkness. Nonetheless, they once again began to return to the great watchtowers of old, long since abandoned. Their mirrors were cracked, and the wood rotted, but they took to the reparation of these structures and within some years soon had functioning communication across the valleys and peaks of their home. They kept vigilant, also, to the West, knowing in that direction lay the growing kingdom of skøltär.
In Erârün and Kiriün, there was no knowledge of the skøltär – these and all other creatures of Darkness had long since faded from the memory of their people, and even Dragons were mere myth, the reality of which were long beyond recall. All the same, the rumor of a growing evil in the North of Thaeìn spread throughout these kingdoms, and the people began to fear. But the king of Kiriün, and the lords of Erârün, did nothing. The king of Kiriün would not heed the advice of his aides, and called them fools. He cared not for tales of Darkness and evil, and said that such stories were for children, and would not be insulted by granting audience to those who bore the news. Instead, he turned foolishly to the ruling of his kingdom, which in reality of course was ruled by the daughters of Sóriana, who lived ever in the great palaces of Courerà. They knew the suggestions of threat could not be ignored, but were powerless to begin preparations; only the king would hear their words, and of this subject he would hear nothing.
In Erârün, the lords’ thoughts were not better. They knew not if the Darkness was real, nor if it would, or even could, spread as far south as their own kingdom. Yet, the line of Farath had become accustomed to their hunger for power being ever sated, and were threatened by the thought that they might be assaulted by a force they could not defend themselves against. Already corrupted by their greed for power, they saw the might of Darkness as a temptation, and concerned themselves that, should the rumors prove true and the forces of Darkness be powerful beyond their reckoning, salvation – and the retaining of their own power – might be found in allying themselves with the Darkness, and turning their kingdom over to its very ruin.
Fearing discontent and uprising, the lords of Erârün spoke not of their thoughts to their people, or to anyone outside of their chamber of council, whom they swore to secrecy under pain of death. And so it was that the kingdom of Erârün also did not heed the warnings of Darkness and coming doom, though the people were wary and grew fearful. The lords were dismissive of their people’s concerns, and said there had not been Darkness in Thaeìn in any memory of all the men of Erâth in many thousands of years, and consoled them that the world was an unchanging place, and there was thus nothing in the rumors of Darkness to fear. After all, Darkness had been banished so long ago – would it not have returned already were it able to do so?
The kingdoms of men thus willingly blinded themselves to the ominous portent, and would not prepare any defense, and were open to their own destruction. It had been too long since the War of Darkness, which had faded from their memory, and their hearts corrupted by fear, greed, or languor. The land of Consolation, of course, was shielded from such concerns and knew nothing of the Darkness approaching the world from the North.
The Defense of the Few
As the Duithèn grew close to their full strength, the skøltär of the North grew bold, and pushed further south, in search of men and death. Their kingdom was far from the lands of men, and for many years they found little, and did not establish themselves in that land, preferring the bleakness of their rocky northern kingdom to the richer forests that dominated the South.
Yet it was inevitable that they would soon encounter the fringe populations of men – those who dwelt far from the centers of their kingdoms, seeking to escape the bitterness and apathy of the great cities such as Courerà and Vira Weitor. The despair of Erârün and Kiriün had not settled upon these men to the extent of their southern kin, and they vowed they would not abandon their homes and their lands to the destruction of the skøltär without resistance.
These men, of course, knew nothing of the Duithèn, or the greater threat behind the encroachment of the skøltär; these creatures had been known to them for many an age, though their encounters were rare. Wolves, too, were not unknown to them, stealing on occasion into their pastures and decimating their flocks and herds. But when the skøltär descended upon them in organized number, they brought with them a new destruction that these people of the wilds had not encountered. In the beginning, small parties of skøltär would bring raids upon their homes, and the men would flee, seeking safety in the larger towns. These towns soon grew reinforced, and great spiked barriers were erected around each village, though it was poor protection against a determined troop of skøltär.
The skøltär of Thaeìn, though, were yet weak, and had not the cunning of their western cousins. As many houses of men were burned, yet more skøltär were killed by the retaliation of men, and though the skøltär did not cease their desultory assaults, their defeats were many and they were not able to make great encroachments upon the kingdoms of Kiriün and Erârün.
The men of the northern wilds were not idle, either; not satisfied with seeking refuge behind wooden walls, they took to actively seeking out the skøltär’s raiding parties and bringing their own destruction upon them in turn. Small battles would often be fought amid the rolling hills and plains of the North, as the parties of men descended upon the skøltär and engaged them in battle. The skøltär were yet fierce, and their draining of the blood of men was a thing to be rightly feared, but these men of the north were brave and faced their enemy all the same.
In the East, the skøltär eventually sought also to move through the mountains, and descend upon Erârün from the North, and here the people of Hochträe held them at bay. The realm of Hochträe had of course never been populous, but their defenses were cunning and strong, and the skøltär could make no progress through their realms. Here too, they would not be discouraged, and returned again and again, attempting to break through Hochträe and straining their defenses.
What no man in Thaeìn knew was that in secret, the Duithèn and the skøltär of the West, and the people of Urkûl from the East, had begun rebuilding the broken Bridge of Aélûr. It was an undertaking that would take many years to complete, and the races of Darkness possessed none of the skill of the great masters of construction of the First Age. Yet it was the key to the success of the Duithèn; as proved already by the failure of the skøltär to break through the barest of defenses, mounted by mere villagers, the great armies of the West would be needed if the kingdoms of Kiriün and Erârün were ever to fall.
So it was that the great populations of the South – Kiriün, Erârün, and even Consolation in the South, blissfully unaware of the looming destruction that might soon be upon them, were protected by the very few brave men that dwelled in the northernmost fringes of their kingdom, and by a remote kingdom whose existence was largely unknown to them. It was a defense that would hold for many years during the long rise of the Duithèn, but should the reconstruction of the Bridge of Aélûr be completed, they would crumble under the massive assault that the Duithèn intended to bring upon them.
It was in this state that the kingdoms of Thaeìn were posed to fall; a kingdom of skøltär already pushing at their borders, backed by the ever-growing might of the Duithèn, who had yet to regain physical form and continue their search for the sword of Namrâth, and a host of creatures of a size never before seen in Erâth dwelling on the other side of the Sea of Aélûr, waiting only for the link between Aélûr and Thaeìn to be remade. Doom was upon all the races of men, and the tide of Darkness could not be stopped.
The Illuèn continued to depart, despite their fear now for the kingdoms of men; what had begun could not be stopped. The Sarâthen continued to observe in mounting horror, torn between their desire to aid men once more, and the knowledge that such interference had only led to further destruction in the history of Erâth, and held by their vows made at the start of the Third Age.
In the South, the small and isolated land called Consolation remained the only place in the entire wide world of Erâth where Darkness did not pervade; these people were kind-hearted, sedentary and tranquil. They had no armies, no soldiers and no weapons, for they had never in all their history since the founding of the land by Daevàr, exiled from Erârün had such violence as witnessed by the great kingdoms. They knew nothing of the Duithèn, the skøltär or wolves, and the idea of a race of men whose hatred burned so bright that their only desire was the destruction of all other men was unthinkable.
It was the unlikeliest thing imaginable, then, that from this land of quiet isolation would come one who might bring balance to the world once and for all. This one, named Fireborne in the tongue of the ancients, disowned by his own people and exiled from his land, would turn the tide of the battle against the Duithèn and the forces of Darkness, and bring the race of men into their rightful destiny as the eternal race of Erâth. So began the Redemption of Erâth.