the backstory is interesting, as it gives a reasoning behind the 4 different factions and explains that they have been isolated from one another for some time, and the fact that Sammael and his monsters were a 5th faction, once the god of love now gone mad. Normal humans were seperated on a 6th plane, but now the barriers have come down and all this is mixing. THe Enlightened are looking at human "candidates" from this 6th normal plane to potentially slay Sammael...
check out the third part, which features a new illustration not in the base game! perhaps this is expansion art?
These links just lead to the SolForge home page... Does anyone have these stories or links to them?
The Candidate: Part I
on Wednesday, 23 February 2011. Posted in News Archive
By Alex Shvartsman
“Who goes there?” Kaer’s challenge rang across the clearing.
Kaer’s men appeared as if by magic, surrounding the caravan, their bows and swords drawn. Archers had the high ground, positioned atop the hill to the left side of the pass. Swordsmen rose up from the thick brush on the right, within striking distance of their targets. It was a perfect spot for an ambush. The fact that the strangers had walked into it so carelessly spoke either of their peaceful intentions or their confidence. Kaer was not about to bank on the former.
“Halt!” shouted the lead rider. He extended a hand to stop his men from drawing their own weapons. He then turned his attention back to Kaer. “I am called Issari, a Templar of the second order in service to Logos. By what right do you accost us on the King’s road?” The rider appeared to be just a few years older than Kaer. His long robe and exotic facial features suggested an Ahran origin. His cultured speech and commanding tone hinted at noble blood. The man sounded more indignant than concerned about the challenge, another small point in favor of the strangers.
“The King and his legions are many days’ journey from here,” said Kaer. “My men and I are the authority on this road, and we say strangers are no longer welcome in our valley. Turn around now, and we will allow you to leave in peace.”
It had been just over a year since strangers from previously unheard of lands began showing up in the region, and with them came the horrors. Kaer’s homeland was rural and isolated – a sprinkling of small villages and homesteads wresting middling harvests from infertile soil. Months often passed between visitors, and so a steady stream of strangers claiming to come from other worlds caused quite a furor among the valley’s residents. Surely it could not be a coincidence that the monsters arrived around the same time.
At first, they only harassed the livestock. Some hens went missing, and then small farm animals were mauled. Villagers spotted wolf-like creatures prowling in the forest. As the traffic increased on the king’s road, so did the number of incidents. The horrors grew bolder. They stalked ever closer to the villages, terrorizing the inhabitants. Soon after, tragedy struck at one of the outlying farms. Monsters swarmed the house at night, tearing the inhabitants to pieces. No one survived, but the bloody remains sent a clear enough message of what transpired.
Kaer had to do something. A twenty-year-old heir to the barony, he was nobility in name only. His family was almost as poor as its subjects and Kaer’s late father did not have the heart to tax the villagers beyond what had to be sent to the crown. The late baron fought in the King’s army and earned his title and estates on the battlefield. While he had little wealth to bequeath to his only son, the baron taught Kaer what he could of military strategy and tactics.
With their families under threat, Kaer had little trouble recruiting a militia among able-bodied men in his barony. He trained them as best he could to defend the valley. They hunted the horrors in the forest with some success, but as more strangers passed through their land, the monsters in turn grew more dangerous. Kaer concluded that his best bet was to turn away the outsiders and hope that the beasts went with them.
Kaer and Issari were at an impasse. Kaer was not at all sure how his inexperienced militia would stack up against a smaller but clearly well-trained band of outsiders. Issari was reluctant to escalate the conflict but resolved to continue down the road. The argument was beginning to heat up and men on both sides were nervously fingering their weapons when the door of the horse-drawn carriage at the heart of the caravan swung open, and a woman stepped out.
She regally walked past sword-wielding villagers as though they were house servants, to be ignored until needed. She was in her late fifties and her gray hair matched her flowing silver robes. Her face seemed kindly from afar, but as she approached, Kaer was discomforted by the piercing and calculating gaze of her steel-colored eyes.
“They are coming,” she said to Issari, ignoring Kaer for the moment. “I sense that a rift just opened not too far away.” She then turned her attention to the young baron. “It’s in your best interest to leave immediately,” she told him. “Take your men and flee, while you can.”
“I do not know what sort of deception this is,” said Kaer defiantly, “but we aren’t children, easily frightened off by–…“ A blood-curling howl cut him off mid-sentence.
“Too late,” said the woman. She turned around. “The hellhounds are here.” Far down the paved road, Kaer saw a pack of nightmarish creatures sprint impossibly fast toward the clearing. They were vaguely dog-like in their appearance. Each creature was the size of a small horse and bared three rows of sharp teeth. Kaer’s archers fired a volley of arrows at the incoming beasts. A few of the arrows found their marks, but they did not slow down the hellhounds at all.
As outsider and villager alike turned to face the incoming threat, the silver-clad woman began tracing intricate patterns in the air, her fingers moving with precision and urgency. Strange runes appeared, shimmering at arm’s reach from her face. As the hellhounds leaped upon the nearest men, she spoke an incantation, and a blast of blinding white light erupted toward the monsters. It incinerated the hellhounds directly in its path and knocked the rest back like so many rag dolls, yet the humans bathed in the light were completely unaffected.
The spell lasted for only a few moments and as soon as it wore off the surviving hellhounds resumed the attack. A beast would jump on top of its victim, pin him down with its immense weight and eviscerate him with shark-like teeth. It needed barely a dozen heartbeats to rip a man to shreds and be ready to pounce again.
To their credit, none of Kaer’s militia turned and ran, though all of them were clearly terrified. Unprepared to face such feral foes, they clumsily hacked at the hellhounds inflicting dozens of flesh wounds but causing little serious damage. Caravan guards fared far better. They methodically attacked the hellhounds that were busy mauling one of their comrades, using curved swords to deliver killing blows to the back of the beasts’ necks. Issari and a few other mounted Ahrans thrust short spears with fishhook-like points at just the right spot in the hellhounds’ sides, presumably to strike at the heart.
Kaer was quick to note the strangers’ tactics. They must have fought the hellhounds before, paying in blood to discover which attacks would work best. Kaer sprinted toward one of the beasts, raised his sword, and drove it with both hands into the soft area just under the skull. The sword cut all the way through the beast’s neck, the tip of the blade sticking out just beneath its jaw. The hellhound roared in rage and pain, its lithe body twisting to face the new threat.
His blade stuck in the beast’s flesh, Kaer found himself face to face with the enraged hellhound empty-handed. It lunged at him, and he dove out of the way, throwing his body in the direction of a saber dropped by one of the fallen Ahrans. He was just fast enough to avoid getting crushed, but the hellhound managed to catch his side with its paw. Claws cut a deep gash in Kaer’s side, scraping against his ribs. Momentum propelled the wounded beast past Kaer and bought him a few seconds of respite. He overcame the burning pain to grab at the saber and stand up.
It was only a matter of time until the beast would bleed out. Thick black blood was flowing from its neck wound as it growled and advanced toward Kaer. Head on, it was still more than a match for a single man. Out of the corner of his eye, Kaer saw the Ahran sorceress as she leaned forward, intently watching the confrontation. She made no move to help.
Kaer took a few swings, testing the unfamiliar weapon and holding the belligerent beast at bay. The hellhound tensed up, its muscles ripping under bloodstained skin. It bared its fangs and jumped toward Kaer once again. Instead of getting out of its way, he ducked and threw himself toward the beast, turning around as momentum carried its body over him and driving the curved sword deep into its belly. Even after having received two mortal wounds, the hellhound still would not quit. With its final breath it pinned Kaer down, tearing at him with its teeth and claws. It died right on top of him, leaving his body trapped under its carcass.
Bleeding from multiple wounds, Kaer struggled to remain conscious as he watched the rest of the battle. Humans took heavy losses but were ultimately victorious. Each hellhound fought viciously, and it wasn’t over until every one of the beasts lay dead in the clearing. It felt like forever, but the entire confrontation could not have lasted more than a few minutes.
Kaer was fading in and out as his men struggled to move the hellhound carcass and free him. Through the haze he saw the sorceress walk up and look over his wrecked body.
“He might do,” she said to the guards. “Bring him.”
Then the world went dark.
The Candidate: Part II
on Wednesday, 02 March 2011. Posted in News Archive
By Alex Shvartsman
Kaer opened his eyes and sat up in bed, jolted as if a wave of adrenaline shot through him. First there was darkness. His mind fought hard to climb out of it, to wake up from what felt like the deepest sleep of his life. It felt like ages passed in this state of near-sleep, not making any progress at all. Then he was awake all at once, his heart beating so fast it was as though he’d just spent an hour running.
"Hungry?” The voice belonged to a young woman seated by his bed. She was wearing Arhan robes similar to those of the sorceress, but hers were made of simple cotton and not the fine silks he saw previously. She held out a basket with some bread and sausage. It smelled delicious, and Kaer realized that he was, indeed, ravenous.
He resisted the urge to grab at the food. Instead he swung his feet off the bed and looked around deliberately. He was in a large, sparsely furnished hall that looked like a combination of barracks and a prison. None of the other beds were occupied, but a few pieces of clothing and various personal belongings scattered around suggested there were other residents. Two guards passively watched Kaer from their posts by the door. Having examined the room, Kaer finally turned his attention back to the woman offering him food.
“What is this place?” He accepted the basket and took a big bite out of the loaf of bread. No sense in facing the unknown on an empty stomach - “And where are my men?”
“Welcome to Arha,” smiled the young woman. “You were brought here four days ago by Lady Atrea’s men. You were badly wounded and there were no other foreigners with you. Lady Atrea ordered that you be tended to.”
Kaer made no response. He studied the Arhan closely as he ate. She went on.
“My name is Caspia. An apocathery assigned me to watch over you. You were kept asleep all this time, to better heal your wounds. This is the reason why you are so hungry, now that the spell has been lifted.”
Kaer pondered the news. He did not know exactly where Arha was, but it could not be anywhere near his home. Was he kept unconscious for weeks? Perhaps even months? “I must disappoint you,” he said. “My barony does not have the coin to pay ransom, nor would my king care to do so.”
Caspia giggled. “Ransom?! You are not a prisoner here. Lady Atrea saw something in you. Potential enough to honor you with the rank of Candidate.” She looked as though she expected a strong reaction to this news, but saw that Kaer was out of his depth. “Eat and wash up,” she said. “I will send for someone who can clear up your confusion.” She patted Kaer lightly on the shoulder to reassure him and headed out the door.
Kaer wolfed down the food, drank from a jar of water and used the rest to wash his face and hands. His clothes were gone but an Arhan-style robe was laid out for him by the bed. He put it on and was pacing the aisles between beds, trying to get used to the unfamiliar sensation of this new clothing, when Issari strode past the guards and into the hall.
“The brigand finally awakens.” Issari spoke mockingly, but without malice in his voice. Kaer was about to protest the title, but Issari chattered on. “I know, I know, you are the law of the land, and all that. After you went head to head with that hellhound, I think I shall generously forgive your insolence.”
“Insolence? You invade my homeland–…“
“Stop,” Issari waved him off. “We can argue all day, or you can just let me explain everything. Caspia asked me to do it, and I can never say no to a pretty face,” he winked. Kaer decided to let the conceited man speak, for now. “That’s better, then.” Issari climbed onto one of the beds, gesturing for Kaer to sit at the adjacent one. “Have you studied any theology?”
“Some,” Kaer said hesitantly. “My father tutored me, but he was more of a practical man.”
“I will take that as a no,” frowned Issari. “How very provincial.” He stretched out across the bed. “Let’s start from the very beginning then.”
“Ten thousand years ago the world of Vigil - your world - was ruled by a pantheon of five deities,” began Issari. “The creator left the five gods in charge of Vigil, to nurture and raise fledgling humanity. Aiyana, the firstborn, was the goddess of birth and growth and had dominion over the wild beasts. Our master Logos was the god of knowledge and logic. Euloth the Builder tinkered with clockwork automatons and steam-powered beasts. Nyx presided over death itself. And then there was Samael, god of love and passion, curse his name.
“The Creator is said to be an enigmatic being, poorly understood even by the five gods themselves. He left them with few guidelines, the foremost of which being that they were not to procreate with one another. There are not many rules to obey when you are a god. Still, immortals will eventually find a way to break the existing few. Samael fell in lust with Nyx. He enthralled her and then coupled with her to produce a divine offspring.
“Clever Samael managed to keep his secrets for a long time, but when Nyx gave birth, even his machinations could not prevent the other gods from finding out what he had done. A birth of a new god is a cosmic event that threatens the very nature of reality. Furious, the other three freed Nyx from the spells Samael weaved to possess her and destroyed their abomination offspring, casting off what was left of its essence into the void.
“Denied his mate and his child, Samael went mad with anger and grief. For the first time ever the gods fought against each other, and the cosmos was not sturdy enough to withstand their conflict. On the verge of total destruction, the world shattered into six realms, trapping each god in the demesne of their own.
“Unable to continue a direct assault on the other gods, Samael began to create demons and monsters, and sent them out to attack any and all living beings outside of his own realm. So vicious and dangerous were these fiends that the other gods had no choice but to create The Great Seal – a spell that would prevent god and mortal alike from traveling across realms.
“People of Vigil gradually forgot the gods. Most believed them to be nothing but an ancient legend, a superstition. On the other five planes however, gods were an ever-present force, ruling over and molding their realms as they saw fit.
“Aiyana nurtured a world of Ogo, a never-ending lush jungle, where humans are as savage and ferocious as beasts.
“Our lord Logos designed Arha, a paradise of learning – an ordered world of monasteries and schools where the initiates explore mysteries of the cosmos.
“Euloth went on creating ever bigger and more complex machines in Hedron, until his entire realm was covered in a constantly shifting shell of clockwork.
“Nyx crafted The Void – a realm so strange only the greatest of our sorcerers can hope to understand it, and it hurts my head to even think about it.
“Samael the Fallen forged Deofol – but you might as well call it hell. His insane mind corrupted and twisted all life on his plane, creating demons and horrors that make the hellhounds we faced seem like a litter of newborn puppies.
“This is where things stood until a year ago – when The Great Seal inexplicably began to crack. At first only the greatest sorcerers were able to travel between realms, but it is getting easier with each passing day. Soon even an apprentice like Caspia will be able to open portals to other worlds. Samael’s monsters have been escaping to wreak havoc across the realms and we fear that when the Seal fails completely, the full force of his armies will move against all life.
“The gods are wary of another direct confrontation. Another battle among beings of such power is likely to cause destruction of both themselves and the entire cosmos. They now search for a human champion, someone who will lead the combined armies of five realms in battle against Samael’s hordes. A champion who would dare to challenge the mad god himself, and to kill him. A deicide. The Godslayer.
“Lady Atrea thought you might be worthy to train as a Candidate,” Issari studied Kaer, - “though I cannot imagine why.”
“This Lady Atrea expects me to slay a god for her?” asked Kaer incredulously.
“Not likely,” said Issari. “There are hundreds of Candidates in Arha alone, myself included. It’s Logos’ will that we are trained in both warfare and magic. Candidates will become officers in the coming war against Samael’s armies, but only one will ultimately be favored by the gods.”
“Who would be crazy enough to want that job anyway?” Kaer could think of many simpler and less painful ways to commit suicide than going head to head with a deity.
“The reward is worth the risk,” Issari smiled savagely, his eyes gleaming with dreams of glory and triumph. “The Godslayer isn’t just being groomed to defeat Samael. He will also ascend to godhood and take The Fallen One’s place in the Pantheon.”
The Candidate: Part III
on Wednesday, 09 March 2011. Posted in News Archive
By Alex Shvartzman
Three months had passed since the day Kaer woke up in Arha. Issari and he had talked for hours of gods and mortals, destiny and heroism. Issari may have been very full of himself, and almost convinced that he was fated to become the Godslayer, but he was easy to get along with if one didn’t mind his ego too much. And on the following morning, when the Candidates returned from the day’s training, Issari introduced him to the others.
They were a diverse group, young men and women from across five realms. Every day search parties returned through the portals with new potential Candidates. No one knew just how the higher-ranked Arhans selected their Candidates, but for all their differences Kaer could see intelligence and a penchant for leadership in each of them.
The candidates slept in the barracks where Kaer first found himself on Arha. They got up at dawn and trained hard under the tutelage of the best experts Lady Atrea could assemble. Kaer was learning how to fight unarmed, and with every possible weapon. He studied anatomy and habits of The Fallen One’s menagerie of demons, and how to best kill them. He learned the craft of warfare by studying the histories of ancient battles and tactics of recent ones. And he studied magic.
Kaer learned that the runes he once saw a sorceress trace in the air allowed a magic user to tap into small amounts of power that gods themselves once gifted to their most loyal followers. It was an exact science to control and direct supernatural powers – a science that didn’t come easily to Kaer, or to most other Candidates. He kept at it, trying again and again, stumbling but learning slowly and methodically. He didn’t have to master the craft, Kaer reasoned. He only needed to learn enough to open a rift between realms and to escape.
Even as Issari was laying it all out of him, Kaer knew this was not his path. He had no desire to become a foot soldier – or even an officer – in the war of the gods. “When monarchs fight, it’s the simple folk on both sides who always lose,” Kaer’s father, a veteran of many campaigns, used to say. Kaer owed no loyalty to Logos, but he did vow to protect the men and women of his valley. Admittedly, the lessons learned in Ahra would benefit him greatly, but only in defending his homeland from any and all actors in this conflict.
He cautiously approached several of the other Candidates. Medat, a bulky northerner who never seemed to smile and kept mostly to himself, seemed like a potential ally in plotting escape. He was not interested. “Where would I go? I have no home to return to. My family was killed by The Fallen One’s accursed minions. At least here I can fight back. As Lady Atrea teaches, revenge is the greatest of motivators.”
Talking to Arianna was a bigger gamble. A native of Ogo, she thrived at lessons both physical and arcane – but her temper often put her at odds with Mentors and other Candidates alike. She was among the best at opening portals and so Kaer had to try and win her support. No luck there, either. “This coming war is going to sweep across all of the realms like a firestorm. Even if you do escape, how exactly do you hope to keep your countrymen safe? Quit wasting your time on this nonsense conspiracy and study your lessons instead. We can all best serve our people by being here, not by running away and hiding out at home.”
Conversations with several other Candidates went little better. Kaer accepted the fact that he’d likely have to learn enough magic to cross The Great Seal on his own. Just then, an opportunity presented itself.
“Greetings, Brigand.” Issari did not seem to mind that his chosen nickname for Kaer wasn’t picked up on by any of the others. He insisted on using it all the same. “How would you feel about a visit home?”
Caught entirely by surprise, Kaer said nothing. He just looked at Issari, knowing that he would not have to wait long for the Arhan to offer an explanation, and at length.
“Lady Atrea has tasked me with a mission to Vigil that will take me just a few hours’ ride from where we first met. I’m putting together a small band and figured you’d come in handy if we run across any hellhounds.” Issari chuckled at his own joke. “Even if we don’t, you are bound to know a good tavern or two.”
This was almost too good to be true. Arhans would practically hand-deliver him back home. He had no doubt in his ability to evade Issari and the others once they crossed the Seal. Wary to show too much of his excitement, he smiled and nodded politely to the Knight Templar. “I would be honored to accompany you on this adventure.”