31: The Age of Decay
The Aestari people enjoyed a brief moment of peace and plenty before Draug revealed his true colors. Enriched by the nations he had conquered, fortified by the crystals from Ixus, and secure in his dominion over almost the entire known world, Draug’s reign became increasingly brutal and autocratic. Over it all, representing the failures of two rulers, loomed a mockery of Aestari greatness — the unfinished Monolith. Draug knew the rest of the world saw it as symbolic of the limitations of Aestari power. For his singular greatness to be undeniable, and for Aestaria’s primacy to be unquestioned and secure, he would have to complete what his predecessors could not.
Construction of the Monolith resumed, and between it and Draug’s vast appetite for power, the once plentiful supply of crystals was again exhausted. Draug issued mandates of his own, reserving the dwindling supply of crystals for him and his inner circle — and for the construction of the Monolith. Magic became outlawed for commoners, and over time, ignorance and superstition spread, corrupting the truth and distorting centuries of arcane knowledge. The earthquakes and storms grew worse with each year, and the people intuitively knew it was a result of Draug’s wanton consumption of the once plentiful crystals. In their minds, magic became dark and mysterious, reviled as if it was the source of trouble, instead of its misuse.
32: The Vanishing Window
“To save many lives, sometimes one must be taken.” – Cassyva Starstrider
In Aestaria, Consular Draug remained sequestered in a heavily guarded palace. While overseeing the crystal mining operations in Ixus, however, he was much more vulnerable. Cassyva and her sisters decided that was their only hope of getting to him. They stowed away on a supply ship to Shar, and under cover of the bloodmoon night slipped into the unfamiliar shadowy ruins. Setting camp on a ridge overlooking Draug’s fortified compound, they planned to spend weeks studying the surrounding geography and Draug’s daily routines. Early the first morning, however, Cassyva watched another nearby dock and realized their window was vanishing — Draug was leaving. She woke her sisters, and as they watched Draug prepare to depart on a massive warship, soon realized that this might be their best chance to remove Draug from power — even their last chance. Now was the time to act.
With deathstrike-imbued blades and mana-rich crystals hidden beneath elegant gowns, they hurried to the dock. They were among the most skilled fighters in Akram, but here they were vastly outnumbered. The sisters knew surprise was their greatest weapon, and their incongruous appearance would make their attack even more unexpected. From the moment they entered the camp, each man they passed turned to stare at them. They reached the dock just in time to see Draug and his cadre of Sworn Defenders at the top of the walkway. Hundreds of Draug’s soldiers were watching the sisters. Scores stood between them and their target.
“Consular Draug!” Cassyva called out as he was about to disappear into the ship. He paused at the sight of five distant beauties in resplendent gowns approaching the blocked walkway. There was no time for Cassyva to use the Star Crystals, to consult with her sisters, or even to think things through. There was only time to act. In a single motion she pulled five blades hidden in her sleeves and cast them with as much magical force as she could summon. They spiraled and sliced through the air with deadly accuracy toward Draug…but at the last moment ricocheted harmlessly off an invisible magical barrier surrounding him. As it was, he watched impassively as the magically siphoned blades instead skewered his elite Defenders as they crumpled into the water with unceremonious splashes. Draug smiled and said, “Kill them.” Then he was gone.
33: Birth of the Abyssians
The Five Sisters valiantly fought their way against the back of the Bonemaw Mountains. Surrounded by Draug’s soldiers and with nowhere else to turn, they fled into a cave and were chased deeper and deeper, into a vast network of underground caverns. By the time they lost their pursuers in the darkness, the sisters were lost as well. Cassyva’s skin prickled at the insistent feeling that something else was now following them. Each possible exit took them farther underground, until finally, they saw a shimmering light. But instead of leading them to the surface, they found themselves in a large domed cavern bathed in the soft glow of crystals. And they were not alone.
The creatures were Inxykree, the female counterparts to the merciless male Inxikrah. Six adults tended a dozen infants, all pure white and reptilian with large faintly glowing cloudy eyes, intelligent but inscrutable. The adults turned and hissed, displaying needle-like fangs and razor-sharp claws. Cassyva paused. They had sworn only to use the Star Crystals to stop Draug, but they couldn’t do that dead. Cassyva shouted “Now!” raising the crystals and infusing the five sisters with magical energy. But it was already too late. The Inxykree struck without hesitation, their keen claws tearing the sisters into bloody shreds before they could expend the magic they had absorbed.
Then the Inxykree and their young consumed them.
The Inxykree absorbed the powers, abilities, and knowledge of their prey. But they had never consumed creatures such as these: benevolent, intelligent, born of magical blood and infused with Star Crystal power. Outwardly, the Inxykree were drastically altered, manifesting the sisters’ beauty in a way that made them look almost human. Inwardly, the transformation was even more profound. “What happened? What have we done?” they asked, looking at their changed bodies, at the carnage on the floor. “What are we?” An Inxikrah male entered, glaring at them. “You are not Inxykree,” he said, baring his cruel fangs. “This is not your Abyss,” he shouted and attacked. The Inxykree had lost their talons and fangs, but had kept their speed and strength — and had gained the skills of the five sisters. They seized the bloody weapons from the floor and slayed the Inxikrah. “He’s right,” they said in one voice. “We are Inxykree no more. We must find an Abyss of our own.”
34: The Emergence of the Bloodborn
After Rasha’s defeat, Valknu escaped the Aestarian dungeons before Draug’s ascension and traveled to Xenkai. As Draug’s brutal reign dragged the world closer to complete chaos, Valknu met with the Chakri Avatars, and quietly sent them out across the continents. Their mission was to gather libraries of ancient texts and manuscripts, including any artifacts that survived from the Seventh Sanctum and the Ostracon. The Age of Chaos was coming. Valknu and the Chakri Avatars intended to preserve the collected knowledge for posterity and to save it from the madness to come.
They brought the texts back to the Chakri Monastery in the Saberspine Mountains, and there, Valknu and the Chakri Avatars remained, protecting the assembled knowledge of Mithron while they bided their time, waiting for the right moment to strike at the forces of evil. While Draug and the Ixikrah devastated the world with their bloody battles, the Chakri Avatars evolved into a secret cadre of resistance fighters. For one hundred years they waited, training and practicing under the guidance of Valknu, honing the self-discipline they would need to one day wield great power without abusing it.
As the prophecy foretold, darkness reigned in the form of a protracted war between the ascendant forces of Draug and the Inxikrah. With every indication that the conflict was headed to an inevitable cataclysmic battle, Valknu and the Chakri Avatars took the desperate journey to Deladriss Peake, the secret location of the Great Tree Aperion. Valknu conferred with the Seidir and the Vanar, ultimately convincing them that the Chakri Avatars were worthy and the situation so dire that they must all be empowered — reborn — through the Blood of Aperion. Only together with Aperion’s power — and only as the First Bloodborn — could they hope to conquer the forces of Draug and the Inxikrah, and pave the way for the true Second Empire.
35: Draug’s Last Hope
With the Inxikrah advancing, severely limiting the supply of crystals from Ixus, Draug found himself on the defensive. His power was diminished, his enemies were emboldened, and the Monolith, now a symbol of his reign, remained maddeningly incomplete. For the first time, Draug felt the hot breath of defeat, like a cloud of Inxikrah venom on the back of his neck. In despair, with defeat looming ever closer, he went alone to commune with the Weeping Tree. And there he found an answer to all his problems. The Weeping Tree was covered in luminous, crystalline buds.
In Draug’s mind, this changed everything. Scholars of the natural record said The Great Tree of Eyos bloomed every ten thousand years. It had been barely four thousand since the last blooming, but no one knew how that would be affected by the removal of the tree’s Heartwood, centuries earlier. Although weakened by age and injury, the Weeping Tree was still unimaginably powerful. A blooming would release petals containing immense magical energy, perhaps equaling a third or even a half of all the crystals that had ever existed on Mithron. Draug was determined that his enemies, especially the Inxikrah, would be denied this power. And he was equally determined that he would possess it — all of it.
Facing a deadline that could represent his ultimate downfall or his supreme triumph, Draug redoubled his efforts to complete the Monolith, to fully enclose the Weeping Tree and the crystal power it would soon release. He told no one of the mana-imbued buds he had seen, and protected his secret by declaring the interior of the Monolith off-limits to anyone but himself. As construction accelerated, so did the imbalance of magical energy, causing increasingly erratic weather, wildly turbulent seas, and tectonic instability. Sensing Draug’s weakness, the Inxikrah pressed their advantage, accelerating their attacks on Aestaria. But Draug knew that he only needed to hold them off until the Monolith was complete and the Great Blooming took place. Then Aestari primacy, and his own, would be secured for millennia.