The Third Age

Much had changed on the face of Shard since the Maeid and the Fey left their children to inherit its surface. Oloth and his family had forced the selfish races to build great walls around their cities to keep out his warring armies. At this, they had turned to the lands of the Elves and the Gnomes, forgetting their original place as violent curtailers of the advance of the selfish races they, too, became selfish, wanting power and land above all else.

In this time, the fair races and the selfish races had come together to rally against the tide of the clay people. At first the selfish races had closed their doors and plugged their ears to the cries of the fair races, but it soon became clear that it was their magics that would save the selfish ones. They allowed the elvish and gnomish folk into their cities and showed them how to work iron and to cut stone and how to mine into the edges of the mountains. In turn the fair folk taught them to hold the power of The Light Mother in themselves and in their weapons and armour and to imbue them with magics. Not all of the members of the selfish races could work the magics shown to them, as they were the diluted blood of Gileath and Karahad, and Gileath’s curse had stripped much of the magic from their blood, but there were those amongst them that could weave the threads of magic, once they were shown, for the essence of The Light Mother and Karahad’s love was still extant.

Oloth’s family had magics of their own, but they were crude and unworked and could not stand against the forces that the fair and selfish races commanded together. The clay people were pushed back and would then rally again and this war went on for hundred of years. It seemed as if the fighting would never end and the cycles of the seasons and the shadows of Aelid did nothing to ease the tensions between the races.

There came a time when war on Shard was thought to be endless and what had once been an unknown within the world was now a constant and inevitable fact. Oloth, old and wise now, had learnt that there were better ways to destroy a wall than to simply attack it with force. Many of the great walled cities of the selfish and fair races had fallen to starvation and disease. Githridion, the first city became the last true bastion untouched by Oloth’s forces and the titanic sprawls of Urquharat and Minead were close to falling. Beset on all sides by the clay people.

Uth’Karahad, Oloth’s city, claimed and renamed from the Dwarven hold Bak-Lirael as a fitting reminder of the reason for their first conquest, became a stronghold and warring capital in the midst of the fair lands. Further raids came from the Wilds and the Wastes from whence Oloth had first sprung and the years of conquest gave Oloth keenness of mind and wisdom in his tactics.

Githridion stood only by the merit of the magics woven in its defence. The walls themselves were imbued with The Light Mother’s essence and many of the stones to build its central bastion had been made from the mountains where the face of Shia’Na’Turuk had fallen and turned to stone. The more magic the people within wove to defend themselves, the more depleted The Light Mother’s energies became, her protection weakening around the tiny shard she had loved so dearly all those aeons ago.

When it seemed as if the tide of Oloth’s forces, now seemingly infinite in their numbers and brutality, would overcome the final holds of the fair and selfish races, there came a second refugee from the old world. This one was older and wiser than Shia’Na’Turuk, and had spent longer in The Great Night. This was Xarallidion, the one who watches, the great consumer, whom it was said first ate his brood after being tricked by Shia’Na’Turuk in the world before and, in his rage, killed Siriad, Prince of Time, whom Shia’Na’Turuk had blamed for the trickery. Xarallidion had conversed with The Great Night for countless years whilst Shard had hurtled through its shadowy abyss and had heard an infinity of whispers of what had taken place upon its surface. It new that The Light Mother was weak and it also knew that there lay within the roots of Aelid, the giving tree, something dormant that had languished there since Aelid was but a sapling in the world before.

Xarallidion flew close to Shard and encircled it with his darkness, so that when Aelid’s shadow passed across the world below, no stars could be seen above in The Great Night. Xarallidion waited above Shard, feeding its inhabitants with nightmares of an infinite abyss, within which no sense or reason could reside. These nightmares permeated the sleeping mind of The Light Mother and she wept great tears of ice that shattered into The Great Night and fed it on sadness. Xarallidion made her dream of twisted horrors and aberrations that would eat the very minds of their victims. Xarallidion made her dream into existence a great darkness in Shard and he made her dream awake that which had slumbered beneath Aelid time immemorial.

From beneath Aelid’s mighty roots, the spore-being that had been sequestered in the ground below erupted into the midst of the warring peoples of Shard. It was a fragment of the great one that had once stalked the world before, tearing down thunder from the sky and breaking mountains with its tusks. Its enormity could crush beneath it cities and mountains and all upon Shard wept to behold it. This fragment, however, was still an enormity upon Shard. It could level cities with its claws and tusks and it dwarfed even the tallest of the giant-kin beneath its tremendous bulk. It tore into the great cities of selfish races, the forests of the fair races and the lands of the Clay People. Following in its wake sprouted twisted creatures that sought to consume and enslave any left alive and above all this stood Xarallidion.

At this moment, the old wars between the clay people and the fair and selfish races stopped. There could be no civil war when all life was threatened. Oloth made peace with the Council who led Githridion and the selfish, fair and clay all united to take on this foe.

Great armies of abominations met the combined forces of the people of Shard as Xarallidion watched from above with malevolent glee. There were countless casualties and the armies of Shard looked set to perish in the face of this threat that was reflected from the world before. The weakening of The Light Mother appeared to have been too great and her sleeping presence above could do nothing to halt the onslaught that Xarallidion brought upon her dream-children. The spore-being rent and tore the cities of Uth’Karahad and Minead, leaving them as desolate, burning husks and the streets of many other towns and cities were filled with blood.

It seemed like all hope was lost and the people of Shard prepared for a final stand. Oloth summoned his army of giants and Yalien, the elven lady of the forest, summoned about her great trees that walked as people do. They took upon the spore being and, after many days of battle, finally brought it to its knees. Yalien, though grievously wounded, survived the conflict, though many of the forest she had raised to aid her were destroyed, including some of the oldest trees in Shard, that were the first spores of Aelid. Oloth was impaled on its tusks of the behemoth in the final throws of its death and, with his last breath, banished it beneath the earth as he smote its skull in two with a mighty blow from his battle-axe. The spore being fell and its body slipped back under the roots of Aelid, to sleep again under the earth.

While this great victory had raised the hopes of those on Shard, it had not saved its people and, with Oloth dead, they had lost a great warrior, capable of holding back the nightmares that Xarallidion conjured from above. Yalien withdrew to what little was left of the forests to heal herself and the selfish folk of Githridion cursed her for abandoning them in their hour of greatest need, for although the spore being was gone, Githridion was the final bastion of hope on the broken face of Shard.

The council of Githridion called together four heroes, who had fought bravely alongside Oloth and Yalien and gave them a task based on the last hopes of old legends. They bade them enter the chasms underneath Shard, to find the fire Nudayin and their children and bring them to the surface to once again save Shard, as they had so long ago in the time of Basal. Tial, Hereshen, Lokir and Fayeth were the brave four tasked with this. Each was blessed by the priests of The Light Mother and given an amulet which had been forged in the first days, when Karahad had taught the first of the selfish folk to mould metal. These amulets had within them the power to stave off the great heats of the world beneath Shard and also granted the bearers with wisdom, strength, clarity and power beyond anything anyone on Shard had held since the time of the Maeid. They were given armour and weapons made from the purest of Dragon steel by Ubud Forge Mother of the Dwarves, who had mined the ore herself from the throat of Shia’Na’Turuk. With these blessings, they found their way beneath Shard, through the tunnels that lay beneath the corpse mountains of Shia’Na’Turuk and wend their way through the under realms to the land of the fire Nudayin.

On their way, they discovered many beasts and beings that lived below their fair world. They found fair folk, with skin as grey as ash and hair as white as snow, who had not seen the light of day before and they called to them to rally and save the world above, but they shied away, for the light above was too great for their eyes. They found dwarves, who had dug themselves so far below the world that they had forgotten that life above existed and had become cruel and twisted and they beckoned them to help them in their quest, but they refused as well, stating that the land above was cold and huge, and the caves below were warm and close and comforting. That nothing would ever creep down to them here and they were safe in their homes beneath the world. They also found beasts and abominations alike who Xarallidion had forced into being in The Light Mother’s darkest dreams and they fought with these in the darkness below Shard.

Finally, after many dangerous and troubling weeks of travelling, The Four found their way to the kingom of the fire Nudayin. Before the great gates of the kingdom they fell and wept, for they knew that if this final plea failed that they would not have the strength to battle their way to the surface again and they knew this would be the end of the world above and that Githridion, the first city, would fall. They knocked upon the great doors of the kingdom of the fire Nudayin and were surprised when they were opened by figures that looked like men, but their heads had horns and their backs had tails and their teeth were long like wolves. These were the children given to the fire Nudayin by the Fey from long ago. These horned ones walked the boiling streets with no need for magical protection and among them walked ghastly dragon folk, the dreams of Shia’Na’Turuk, who were given, too, to the Nudayin after the great dragon was felled.

The fire Nudayin listened to The Four and they heard their pleas. They stroked their flaming chins and they talked in spitting and roaring voices and they conversed for many hours, until at last Sheba, the horned-one wife of Maia, the queen of the fire Nudayin, begged for the horned ones and the dragon folk to be allowed a choice – to fight for the folk above Shard, from whence they had come, and maybe join with them on the surface, or to stay below with their adopted parents of flame. The fire Nudayin wept boiling tears of lava that spilt across the city at the thought of losing their children, but they knew that they could not keep them captive beneath the world now that they had seen others from above and they gave their blessing to the children of flame to follow The Four. Many did not go, but many did, still, and The Four battled their way to the surface of Shard with their new army of horned ones and dragon folk in tow.

By this time, Githridion had nearly succumbed to the forces of darkness and only the great Keep stood untouched. All outside it was a great, bloody battle and the white and gold of Githridion’s streets was stained crimson and black. As the forces of Xarallidion prepared their final assault, Xarallidion sent down a shard of itself to the surface of Shard in mortal form to deliver the final blow. As Xarallidion crowed with glee and beckoned its maddening forces to the final walls of Githridion’s Keep, the armies of the horned ones and the dragon folk came from below, with The Four leading them.

This battle raged for days, with Tial, Hereshen and Lokir all falling, despite their great weapons and armour and their amulets of power. Their bodies were lost to the warring and the creatures and, some say, their weapons and armour were taken by The Light Mother herself to replenish her power. Others say they were cast to the farthest parts of Shard itself by the warriors of Xarallidion to stop any others from gaining their power. Finally, Fayeth, last of The Four stood face to face with Xarallidion. Wielding the great magics that she had been given to aide her in her quest and swinging the dragon steel sword, Whisperer, she challenged Xarallidion to combat on the steps of the Keep of Githridion.

The two fought for hours, locked in a mortal and bloody struggle that saw both figures rent and torn. Finally, Xarallidion knocked Whisperer from Fayeth’s grasp and kicked aside her enchanted shield, Light Bearer. Fayeth looked into the black, gaping face of Xarallidion and prayed to The Light Mother one final prayer, with the last of her breath, as Xarallidion loomed over her, and above, over the world of Shard.

It had never before been known, nor has it since, for The Light Mother to stir in her slumbers. But, as the light of Fayeth’s prayer burnt against the face of Xarallidion, the Celestial Breach was torn asunder and The Light Mother began to do battle above the world of Shard, with the enormous form of Xarallidion, which had travelled through The Great Night to find her and her children on this world. She tore into the fiend with a sword of purest light, using all the strength that is given to a mother defending her children. The two great powers from the world before fought above the final fragment of their old home, but one could not gain quarter over the other. They were matched in their strength and their prowess. The Light Mother, born on by the love of her children, and Xarallidion, filled with the hatred and longing of The Great Night.

While it seemed like neither side could win, far above in the Celestial Breach, it fell to the children of The Light Mother to be her saving grace. Fayeth, who had used the screeching rending of the Celestial Breach and the coming of The Light Mother to escape the grasp of Xarallidion’s mortal form, reached for Whisperer and, screaming a prayer to The Light Mother, plunged it into the heart of Xarallidion’s mortal aspect. As Xarallidion’s aspect was burnt out and destroyed, so Xarallidion’s true form, in battle with The Light Mother was weakened. This weakening was enough for The Light Mother to grasp the form of Xarallidion and fling the wretch away into The Great Night. Xarallidion grasped out a single hand to hold itself onto Shard and tore a great, twisted crack into the surface of the world that could never be repaired, but the force of The Light Mother’s throw was too much and Xaralliidion was cast out into the darkness, never to be seen again. The Light Mother smiled, once, upon the surface of her creation and beheld it in all its beauty, then fell again to her slumber. The great tear, the Celestial Breach above, gaping into The Great Night.

So came an end to the wrath of Xarallidion. The face of Shard scarred forever and its people forever changed. They were united, at a price, and reunited with the folk from the fire Nudayin, who were given homes on Shard. The dragon folk were forgiven for their transgressions with Shia’Na’Turuk and they were all accepted as one people under The Light Mother.