A dark meteor fell upon the mystic realm of Fimbulas, covering all there in shadow and despair. One by one, the peoples of that distant land were devoured by the El, an ancient race spawned of the black between stars.
Four warring kingdoms: Minos, The Empire of Ash, The Dark Forest, and Felduain each received desperate messages. Pleas for help from the stricken peoples of Fimbulas.
So dire were the messages, so despicable the genocides undertaken by the El, that, for the first time in five hundred years, all conflict among The Four Kingdoms ceased. The kingdoms stopped their wars and marshaled their strength to send what aid they could. A great fleet was constructed. A great army raised. Spies were sent, a beach-head established upon the rocky, wind-swept shores of Fimbulas.
But Fimbulas was far across the Trilan Sea, beyond the Veil of Gales, and the fleets they sent were wracked by storms. Scattered, they fell prey to Korminril, the El’s strange floating fortress, with its legions of Shrike raiders. In a hundred hopeless battles, the Four Kingdom’s great fleet was lost, its armies drowned in two thousand wrecks.
So the first war against the El ended almost as soon as it had begun. They called it the War of Tears — for all the mothers who knelt by the sea and cried for their sons and daughters, who would never return.
Having paid dear in both men and treasure, the Four Kingdoms withdrew. But they would not content themselves to wait and be prey for the El, nor could they console themselves of the terrors and strange reports that continued to trickle in to their shores.
So they marshaled what strength remained and set about to establish The Guard. Universities, raised to train a new generation of defenders and protectors, sprang up across the kingdoms. Youth from the ages of 8-18 received the best teaching the kingdoms could provide in exchange for this sacred vow:
Vigilance my heart,
Honor my bond,
Might my weapon,
Deliverance my hope,
These I hold sacred,
These I pledge,
Though my heart be devoured,
Though my body be broken,
Though my mind be taken,
Though my spirit be lost,
For I am the Shield of My People,
For I am the Tree in the Storm,
For I am the Mountain Unbroken,
For I am the Flame Unquenchable,
I shall come at need,
When the warning is raised,
When the darkness sweeps in on the wind,
When dread rises up on the waves,
For I am The Guard,
The strength of my people,
Against the death that comes from the stars.
You are one of these defenders. One of those who attended the great Universities. One of those pledged to fight the El when the need arrives. You are also part of an elite cadre.
For as The Guard was established, a massive amount of energy was put into developing special weapons to fight the El. These weapons became known as The Awful Devices. Some of you trained with these weapons in order to help The Guard perfect them. Some of you even assisted in their development and construction.
The Awful Devices were in many ways as strange and deadly as the El they were designed to combat. Each possessed its own sentience. Each its own personality and secret goals. Many times, The Guard considered their destruction. But, each time, they decided to keep The Devices, out of fear of the El.
The Awful Devices were named:
Wave of the Terrible Deeps
Whelm of the Thundering Peaks
Hell Spike of the Flame that Consumes
Torc of the Light that Blinds
and Black Razor the Soul Eater
Your work with these terrible weapons has left you tainted. And, sometimes, you awake at night in a puddle sweat as you realize the thing you once worked with so long ago was speaking to you in your sleep.
But The Devices were locked away safe by The Guard. Never to be used until the El came.
Never to be used…
Your graduation was about ten years ago now, and much of your memory of your time at The University has faded into nostalgia. Since then, you have each risen to become notables in your field of expertise. You have lived full lives. So it is with no small feeling of dread that you received The Guard’s unavoidable summons:
“Vigilance, Honor, Might, Deliverance. You, of The Guard, are summoned to a Gathering. We meet at Limlight on the night of the first full moon of summer. The Church of Pelor is reserved for your esteemed attendance.”
The seals of the Four Kingdoms — The Mountain, The Tree, The Shield, and The Flame — rest at the bottom of your message. And beneath them..
“Meet me at noon before the Gathering. The Maggy May. We have much to discuss.”
The writing is in the scrawl of your old teacher, Karaptis, who instructed the course ‘Combined Arms.’ CA, as you called it at The University, was a specialty class intended to enhance your ability to work effectively as a team. Karaptis was also the master-mind who guided the construction of The Awful Devices. The process left him physically scarred and, many think, more than a bit addled.
The Maggy May is a local restaurant, inn, meeting-place, and drinking establishment all rolled into one. It is a favored haunt of students, teachers, and alums from The University at Limlight. Your memory of the place is fonder and less conflicted than that of your old teacher, Karaptis.
You are now on the road to Limlight and, on the way, your thoughts meander through memories of your youthful days at The University, of your friends and teachers. Of your closest companions…
You’ve each received the summons. So on the day before the gathering you decided to meet at Old Crow — a mangled tree on the roadside where, once, Harley stole a feather from an old crow who, ever after, hounded Harley, collecting mostly useless trinkets and knick-knacks from her and hiding them in its nest atop the gnarled old tree. Occasionally, it would steal something useful and this would give a good excuse for everyone to leave town for a day-or-two sojourn to the outskirts.
You’re not certain if Old Crow is still alive, but the tree he lived in was an ancient stone poplar, a slow-growing, twisted thing that would probably last longer than the mountains. You all remember it well enough to find your way. And a few things of Harley’s have turned up missing…