Welcome to Aetherius
They watched the mountains rise as Oblivion lifted high into the sky. They watched as the earth fell away to the bottom of the lands. They watched as towers spun into the heavens and, as the ethereal beings watched the success of Oblivion, they summoned me.
Let me tell you, my brothers and sisters of Aetherius, for I have ever so briefly glimpsed its beauty. I must tell you of this happening and allow you to decide your course, as your struggle and pain will surely follow mine. While struggle we may have, together we will gain more than we could ever imagine, not only for us, but for all of Zolaria.
Now close your eyes and hear of my time in Aetherius.
Gazing over the lands, they saw the sprawling town of Braavos, the underwater haven of Rapture, the towering mountains of Paragon and the mighty walls of Verstad, and they knew they had found their champions.
“Hello my vessel,” one of the beings said as it approached me. Its approach is strange, for although it had shape it did not seem to use its legs as it gracefully floated closer. I did not fear it, for I could feel a great benevolence radiating from its aetheric form.
“We have summoned you here with a great task that we shall entrust upon you. We are the creators of this realm and we have been awaiting a champion since the age of creation.”
I stood in silence trying to take in everything that was happening. Stars were crossing the heavens at amazing rates and I could see through the multi-colored fog that drifted everywhere; what looked to be a sun being born.
The being watched me for a long moment before continuing. “Long ago, when we set to make this mortal realm, dark forces watched us from afar. We were bold and thought our powers great enough to ignore them, but with the creation of Zolaria, those forces set in motion a powerful enchantment that bound our own energy to the land, weakening us enough to contain us here in Aetherius. It is that enchantment that binds your own being to the lands after your death and recreates you to continue on.”
I was stunned. I had heard many myths as to how Zolaria’s hold on its people was so strong, but I could feel the truth in this being’s words.
He continued: “You are all one with us as we are one with the rest, but the bonds that hold us must be broken so this evil can be pulled from the shadows, and removed from Zolaria forever. We have seen the strength in you and yours, and have chosen you to undertake this task.”
I felt my spine straighten as my body tensed at the idea of our immortality and the possibility of our world being destroyed.
“You need not worry yourself, young one. Breaking the bonds will not harm Zolaria, but in fact will heal her. The beings that interrupted the creation and bound us have done so to take control of Zolaria. That is why the undead freely roam and why the evils seem never ending. They have attempted to take over the lands for many ages, but, while they bound us, they did not realize it would bind all of our children as well. Due to the children of Zolaria being immortal these dark forces have never been able to claim the world as its own.
“I task you, Eldrylars, that on the eve of the third age, you and yours will find yourself in a new and strange land. A land wild and untamed. A land full of extreme dangers and evils. In this new land, you must take hold. Be ready for struggle beyond. The evil forces will certainly bring your own brothers and sisters to bear against you. Do not hate your brethren for their betrayal, for they will have been foolishly deceived by the powers of the evil force.
“To weaken the enchantment you must assemble four centers of power that will channel the energy of this feral land, allowing us to regain some of our powers. These centers must work in cohesion to succeed, as if they are four pieces of one whole, instead of four separate pieces. Once this has happened, we will be able to open the gateway to the land that links Aetherius and Zolaria. This ancient land has been frozen in time from the earliest days of creation and once the gates are open, the real battles will begin. When our presence is felt in Zolaria, the forces that wish to control it and destroy its people will be forced to show themselves. It is then that the fate of the worlds will be decided.
“You now know our task. You know the dangers and you can envision the rewards: a Zolaria that can grow peacefully with all of her children for all time. Follow us, brothers and sisters of Zolaria, and let us free our world from this evil!
Prepare yourselves, for on the eve of the third age, we shall be forever changed; tasked with the greatest destiny one could ever be given!
“The Aetherius Dominion will rise and the people of Zolaria will be freed!”
It is late in the evening and the moon is already high in the sky. The building is barely lit, dark enough that several of the travelers lose their footing more than once. Many bodies are travelling these halls this evening, all heading towards a room at the back of the building. There is a dry taste to the air, and all the smells one would expect in an old building, both good and bad, are missing. Each time the door to the room opens, a thick fog seems to ever so briefly escape into the hall, making it harder to breath.
A heavy atmosphere hangs over the travellers as they shuffle into the room. The room is bare but for an octagonal table which has two seats on seven of eight sides. The travellers find their places among the fourteen seats, with their armored companions standing alertly in the shadows behind them. The figures hold themselves in somber attentiveness, yet there is a tense unease that hung in the air.
The sentinels stand with a hand on their blades, their eyes watching the corners of the room, but furtively watching one another.
As the last seat is filled, the door silently swings shut and is bolted by an unseen hand. The heaviness of the room doubles, making the pressure so great that one of the men standing at arms briefly starts to heave and choke.
Three figures emerge from the darkness of the corners of the room, surrounded by the shadow of some oppressive fog. The figures appear to glide rather than walk as they convene at the open edge of the table. There is a pause as the three look at each man in turn. And then they speak.
“We have summoned the most powerful and wise leaders of these lands, to propose an alliance that will grant glory, riches and influence to those brave enough to take it.”
They speak not alone but together, their voices echoing each others’ words, increasing to a low rumble that seems to wrap around the room. Their voices are low and dragging, almost guttural, and as they speak the stench of decay wafts from their mouths. A few of the men shuffle uncomfortably, and one individual sitting nearest the figures retches into his hand. Yet the greed and desire is unmistakable in their eyes as they stare fixedly at the three figures.
“Let us start by becoming,” the three pause for the briefest moment, “friends.” As the words leave their lips, the slightest of smirks can be caught by one with a keen eye.
“Around this table we have Koen of Silvermede, Glacial of Lux, Zen of Genesis, Raekin of Ambercove, Multis of Firecrest, Guardian of Aldenshire, Vongard of Legacy, Dwarfers of Raubtier, Reecon of Atlantis, Ravynn of Demons Wood, Lumont of Umbra, Werwew of Incendus, and Beastt of Port Royal. Now that we are all friends,” at this the three glance sideways at one another, “let us continue. A great enemy is attempting to return to our world, and if it is to succeed it will take away all our powers and destroy all we hold dear.” A pause. “See for yourself the destruction they wrought on your old empires, your homes.”
A scene materializes in the center of the table showing the ruins of the once great Bastion keep and of their homes seemingly melted into the grounds and absorbed back into the lands. Gasps and angry murmurs resound around the table.
“These enemies are ours as well, which makes us allies of a common cause. We invite you all to share in the glory, power and riches that will come with the destruction of the enemy.”
Several of those seated at the table glance back and forth between each other, as the rest of the table stare fixedly at the three speakers.
“Whether you walk together or alone is unimportant to us. The only thing that matters is the enemies’ destruction. The power can be split several ways, or all can be obtained by one, it is up to you to choose your allies.”
This time every person at the table glances around, sizing up their neighbours. As they sit in silence, one stands and walks towards the door, turning her back to the congregation.
“Ravynn, leaving so soon?” the three ask.
Turning to keep her back to the wall, Dakinara following closely behind, she says, “We will not be a part of your army, we will not bend knee to you!”
The three seem amused. Suddenly Ravynn and Dakinara groan as they fall to their knees facing the three.
“What was that, dear?” the three mock, as an invisible force holds Ravynn to the floor. “There is no escaping your destiny, Ravynn. You and yours will fight for our cause. You have no power to resist and if you try you will all suffer greatly.”
Ravynn and Dakinara struggle to get up, but they are not able to break the bonds that hold them. From across the table snickering can be heard from Koen and Vongard as Ravynn struggles uselessly.
“As you can see, we are the ones with the ultimate power here, and you will do as you are instructed.”
While the three are talking, Dwarfers glances back to Grey before leaping forward with lightning speed, his sword blazing with the intense light of his soul fire. As his sword is about to meet its mark on the nearest of the three, they each lift a hand faster than any would think possible and Dwarfers shoots backwards, crashing hard into the wall at the back of the room and crumpling to the floor.
Grey whispers something under his breath and a bolt of lightning shoots from his hand at the three, but it is absorbed harmlessly into the dreadful fog that surrounds them. Within the blink of an eye Grey lies crumpled on the floor next to Dwarfers. The three look back across the table.
“Is there anyone else with something to say?”
There is silence as the reality of their positions sink in. No one else stands or attempts to speak.
“I am glad we have an understanding. Now back to business.” A dark glow starts to swirl in the center of the table, drawing all eyes toward it.
“Sit.” Ravynn, Dakinara, Dwarfers, and Grey rise up from the floor and solemnly make their way back to their seats, as marionette dolls pulled by their strings.
“The enemy, although strong, is still too weak to manifest on this world. Instead they have recruited those that were once called the Legion of Oblivion, from your previous lands. The enemy is responsible for the destruction of your old homes and now they plot to destroy the rest of the world.”
Images of the leaders of the Legion flash in the misty light above the table. While watching the images, anger and fear flash across the faces of several of those at the table. Glacial forces a smile and says, “Oblivion is nothing, if that is all this enemy has to offer then we have already won.” A titter of annoyance passes between the three.
“We see your arrogance is as strong as ever. Have you forgotten your failures? Have you forgotten how you fell, twice to Oblivion in the tournements? Have you forgotten the countless battles you lost in the fields? Everyone at this table has failed in their attempts to outplay the Legion. I can assure you all, that you will fail again without our assistance.” More discomfort crosses the faces of those at the table.
“We will assist in your training by showing you vast mountains and huge caverns where the undead flourish, we will assist you on your way to hell to gather the riches that can be found there, and we will assist you in regaining the riches and power that was once stolen from you. Power and riches will come to the lord or lords who conquer the enemy. We will be watching you, and will either reward or punish you, based on your successes or failures.” Once again those at the table look amongst themselves.
“The name that the enemy goes by is the Aetherius Dominion, and although they have lost many of their great warriors, they have already grown stronger than all of you. You must train, and with our resources, you will gain strength quickly. Then you must stop the enemy before they get any stronger.”
There is a rush of fog into the room and the pressure of the air triples. The lords are blinded, and several choke. Over the next few minutes the fog dissipates and the pressure in the room subsides, alleviating the sense of weight pressing down on those around the table.
The three figures were gone.
One by one, the people at the table gather themselves to make their way out of the building. Vangard laughs as he passes by Ravynn, and says, “Good luck with Aetherius while you are lying on the floor. Perhaps I could offer you a more fitting position, as my servant?”
Koen, standing across the room with Werwew, Recon and Multis, yells to Dwarfers, “Such a mighty warrior falling to the floor like a child knocked down by a breeze. Best get used to it as we will take care of you before we finish Aetherius.”
Dwarfers grins at the insult and says, “I look forward to seeing you soon.” He and his escort vanish in a cloud of redstone dust.
Lumont, who has been sitting back and watching the show, laughs loudly. “You and your petty alliances. We do not need the assistance of other as you do. We will crush Aetherius, as well as the rest of you without any of your pathetic hand-holding alliances, and then we will take all the power and riches for ourselves.”
There is obvious amusement on the face of Glacial as he fades into his own cloud of redstone dust.
Moments later the stragglers walk out the door or recall back to their dwellings.
The council chambers are crude but they serve their purpose well. The six sit at the round table going over resource lists and diplomatic papers.
Eldry asks across the table, “The funds, Jonsoon, they seem to be lacking.”
Jonsoon raises an eyebrow and sighs, “Unfortunately even with every member doing his or her part, these souls are hard to come by. Even though we have accumulated more souls than the rest of the lords combined, we have still only gathered twenty thousand of the twenty eight thousand we need.” Eldry nods.
“I understand, and have seen the generosity of our followers first hand and it’s heart warming, but we must be ready soon. Let us run an extra shift so we can get this portion done and out of the way. Zeph, how close are we with the organics and ores?”
Zeph grins as she quickly replies: “Fortunately all the supplies have been gathered! The people are soaking their sore fingers now and will hopefully be able to help with the soul collecting soon.”
“Wonderful!” Eldry responds.
Witchy stands and lays out several sheets of paper on the table as she says, “There is the matter of the alliance proposals. Both Demons Wood and Port Royal are requesting admission to our courts with the intent of proposing formal alliances.”
Those around the table glance at the documents momentarily and then North breaks his silence. “Perhaps more allies would be beneficial at this point? Both Ravynn and Beastt have always been honorable in the past.”
North’s words seem to trail off in a slowed echo. All those at the table start to feel a light airiness about them. The room becomes brighter and brighter, although the source of the white light is not detectable. With the light comes a peaceful and calm feeling. For a brief moment the room is filled with nothing but white light, blinding the six council members.
Gradually the white light fades away and, as the surroundings come into focus, they find themselves in a new place. Stars are flying across the sky and the suns seem closer, brighter and more inviting. For several minutes the Lords stare in amazement. For Eldry, the memories of his last visit to Aetherius came flooding back to him.
“Where is this place?” asks Witchy, her eyes wide, sparkling with the wonder of what she is seeing.
“It’s so beautiful,” Zeph almost whispers.
“We are in Aetherius, my friends,” Eldry responds.
“This, is what we strive for?” Michael asks, while already knowing the answer, but needing to hear it to make it more real.
“Yes, my kin, all beings’ paths eventually lead through such a place,” rings a voice that chimes like bells.
A lovely scent reminiscent of jasmine and lavender fills the space where the six stand. As one, they turn to see a figure floating gently towards them. The figure seems to radiate peace with a light glow that shimmers off its body.
“Welcome to Aetherius my friends. We have much to discuss and very little time.” The being glides swiftly away from them, and feeling a sense of urgency, the six follow without hesitation.
They follow along walkways that seemed to float in a pinkish fog. Through the fog as well as high above, the stars were shining brightly. There was no visible land beneath the walkway or anywhere within their range of view, and although it seemed like the walkway was floating on a cloud, there was no sense of height creating a calm while they traversed it. The sun shines brighter than sunlight in Haven. Its rays shimmer off the surface of the walkway, the light refracting into a multitude of colors, not unlike the iridescence of pearls. After a short distance the walkway ended at a staircase which lead them up and onto a platform. Centered on the platform is a great round table, made from the same pearly material of the road. Around the table are seats suspended in air by some unseen force. The being slides gracefully into one of the seats and gestures for the others to do the same. Within moments all the lords are seated, eyes riveted on the being before them.
“Once again, welcome to Aetherius, my kin,” the being began. “Let me start by introducing myself and my people. We are Aetherean, and long ago we were a people such as yourselves. Our then young world and it’s people, lived in a constant state of struggle and turmoil. We endured for many tens of thousands of years, and eventually we were able to grow past our views of separation, and realize that we all are truly connected and that at one’s core, each being can not truly able to be distinguished from the next.
“When this realization occurred, it quickly spread across our planet, and barely one hundred years after, not a single one of us could harm another, for we knew that to harm another would be to harm ourselves. Once this understanding was in place and our people were at peace, we started the feel a pull from our world and we started to feel our direct connectedness to our planet as well. Eventually after a long prosperous and peaceful period of learning and growth, our energy merged with that of our worlds, and all beings of Aetherius become one being, one consciousness, composed of millions of personalities.
“That was many millions of your years ago. Now we work with others of our kind to help life start and flourish on younger planets. As you may already know, we were helping in the creation of your planet when we were attacked by dark entities known as the Bhor, and our energy was bound. Now, with your help, we hope to break the bonds made so long ago, so that we can free your world from the entities that have been tormenting it and then continue our work to help others.”
The Aetherean’s eyes shine a wonderful shade of green. The being gazes proudly at the lords, as a parent may gaze at their accomplished children. As its eyes meet each of theirs in turn, they feel a lifting sensation in their chest and are filled with hope.
“There are several things we must tell you before you return, and as I said our time is short. The entities we are fighting against are called the Bhor. They are descendants from another planet that has matured through it’s stages.
“Unfortunately, not all peoples grow with love. Some, such as the Bhor, never realized the connections between themselves, and grew their world through a purely self-interested society. Eventually, when they evolved, instead of becoming one with their people they became more separated and pushed more into war and hatred until only a few remained. Those that did survive these horrible times took their new found powers and absorbed the remaining energies from their planet before it died.
“They have continued to live off the control of other, younger, planets, consuming the energies until the planet and its peoples die off.”
For the first time, a look of deep sadness could be seen in the being’s eyes.
“Many planets have died in this fashion; countless other civilizations have travelled the same path as the Bhor, consuming the energy of other planets for their own growth, and in the process destroying them.” He pauses a moment before continuing.
“The Bhor are very old and very powerful, and for most of those on this planet, they are very dangerous. A fortunate effect of our bonds to this planet allows us to shield you and yours from any direct assault from the Bhor. Unfortunately the Bhor are working around this by recruiting, sometimes forcefully, the other lords and ladies of the land in an attempt to bring their armies to bear against you. Some of these lords are coordinated enough to organize sizable forces, while others are scattered and will most likely be limited to launching small raids. The Bhor also have their own powerful minions that they have created and, of course, the normal creatures you have been fighting for generations.
“Recently the Bhor summoned many of the lords of Haven to a gathering. During this gathering they gained the allegiance of a great number of the lords by convincing them that the destruction of Bastion was our design and your doing.
In a whisper Jonsoon asks, “The destruction of Bastion?”
The Aetherean turns to Jonsoon’s with a look of regret. “Yes, almost all you know of Bastion was lost to the Bhor, and the rest worn away by time.”
Michael, with a look of confusion, responds, “What do you mean, time? We have only been here in Haven for a few weeks now. Certainly that is not enough time for the whole of Bastion to have been destroyed?”
The Aetherean considers for a moment and asks, “Do you remember the floating lands you visited before coming to Haven?”
A few of the lords furrow their brows in concentration. Witchy is the first to reply. “I do remember”, she says slowly. “There were floating island with giant statues and great structures… yet, my memories are misty. I had thought them only a dream.” The rest of the table nods in agreement, straining to remember; they too have such memories.
“That was not a dream, but a sacred, timeless place. For while you cannot die to sword or spell, while on Zolaria, your bodies continue to age as they should, and over time you would would die from that natural progression.”
“During the age of Bastion, Zolaria was not yet ready to have the enchantment broken. Zolaria needed more time to grow and mature, for just as you grow in power and strength over time, so does Zolaria; and it is the power of Zolaria that is needed to break the enchantment. It was at that time that we cast a spell of sorts, to transport the the Legion to that sacred place, to preserve you and yours from the ravages of time while Zolaria finished maturing. The spell was powerful though and brought with it not only those from the old Legion, but everyone else from Bastion as well.”
The Aetherean pauses for another moment. “The Bhor quickly realized we were behind the sudden disappearance and knew we must be attempting to free ourselves, but they could not determine what had happened or what we were planning. So, they searched and searched, and without the peoples of Bastion there to defend it, most of the cities were burned to the ground. Eventually, all the lands surrounding Bastion were destroyed by the Bhor’s minions.”
Once more, the Aetherean pauses briefly as if to allow for questions, but none of those around the table dare yet speak.
“They searched for over a thousand years, my friends. One thousand years while you were all safely secured in the sacred lands.”
There are gasps from around the table. “One thousand years!” North asks.
“Yes. As we said, Zolaria’s own powers were still too weak and it’s that power and the will of Zolaria itself which are required to break these bonds. Unfortunately, nothing could have been done in the Age of Bastion, and over ten generations of your descendents would have had to struggle to survive until this era, if they were to be successful in breaking the enchantment. Over the years, all but the mighty Bastion keep has returned to its natural state. The great keep was so well built that some of it still stands, but the rest of Bastion as you knew it is gone.”
As the being spoke, an image of bastion keep weaves itself out of pale mist in the center of the table. The once proud walls are covered in moss, cracked and crumbling, and the ground overtaken with wild grass. The pale mist drifts over the image as the scene shifts, sliding away from the ruined keep to the lands beyond, where nothing but thick jungles and long stretches of desert and tundra can be seen.
“This new land you inhabit is also untamed and primal. In fact, Haven is the birthplace of all the people of Zolaria; it was the first land to grow out of Zolaria’s oceans during the planet’s birth. This is why Haven was chosen, for these lands are the only place on Zolaria powerful enough to open the gateway. The gateway we speak of is a portal to a long forgotten land. One not of Zolaria or of Aetherius but a place in between. This land was created when Zolaria was born, creating a link to other worlds for the purpose of growth. It’s through these lands in between our worlds that we can make our way from Aetherius back to Zolaria to help expose and defeat the Bhor.
“Once the energy of Haven can be channelled through the four cities, we can focus it into the gate and activate it. The soul shards you find in these lands are a physical representation of Zolaria’s energy, its growth and its rebirth. When the energy of Zolaria passes from one point to the next it will sometimes take on a physical representation in these shards. These powerful pieces of Zolaria’s energies are useful in many tasks as you have found, but overall, they are a physical link, or a symbol, if you will, of the connection between yourselves and Zolaria. Their collective energies are what is needed most to power the gateway.
“I must now return our conversation to the matters at hand, for we are almost out of time.
“The Bhor have the other lords under their control, no matter how much they may want to resist. For this reason you cannot trust any of them as allies. The protection we are able to give you cannot be extended to save them from the Bhor’s manipulation. We do not ask you to declare any of the good people of these lands as enemies, as we strive for peace for your whole world. We do warn you, however, that taking them into your house will weaken our ability to protect you, and may well bring ruin to our task at hand as well as, perhaps, all of Zolaria.”
The air on the platform vibrates and shimmers and then returns to normal.
“We are out of time my friends. Continue on your current path for you are succeeding in all your goals, and we will contact you as soon as we are able.”
As the Aetherean’s words end the room starts to shimmer again, slowly becoming brighter and brighter until all that can been seen is a pure white light. With the light again came the feeling of peace and airiness that accompanied the first experience. As the light fades the six find themselves sitting at their meeting table, their papers spread out in front of them as before.
They stare at each other, looking for words.
Finally Witchy gathers herself and announces, “I suppose I had best start writing the replies to our would-be allies.”
“Yes,” Eldry responds. “Let them know we regret to decline their requests, but we are not able to enter into any formal agreements at this time. We wish them well on their journey.”
“I will double our efforts to collect the final souls we need to lay claim to Volantis,” Jonsoon exclaims.
“Excellent!” Eldry replies. “Let us depart and continue with our jobs. We have done well, my brothers and sisters! We have a long track ahead of us, but hopefully soon we will see those fruits realized and help to heal our world.”
The six figures stand and bow to each other before heading off to their tasks.