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The Warlock Strife
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Long, long ago…
Dargeshaad was counted amongst the gods before his fall, before he was cast forth from his rightful place by his fellow powers for an unforgivable transgression too unspeakably vile to record. Stripped of his power and disciplined nigh unto death, Dargeshaad plummeted into the world in a blaze of green fire, a dire omen for those who saw it. His fellow powers expected, even prophesied, that the demipower would find his final rest in the face of his celestial punishment.
Two ages passed within the world, and indeed it seemed that Dargeshaad was no more. The smoking crater that had marked the lonely site of his entry into this plane had long cooled to an unremarkable feature in an already barren and blasted Landscape. And long had the outer planar beings responsible for Dargeshaad’s punishment dismissed the matter from their pelagic minds.
Enter Polhemus, later known as the Warlock, of whom legend and myth speak with only lament and blame; Ah, Polhemus, how could you…? Driven from the halls of Mathghamhna by his fellow sorcerers for dallying in forbidden lore, Polhemus found his way into the Ashen Lands following a blind clue gleaned from his evil researches. With his strength almost at an end, Polhemus came upon the vague crater of Dargeshaad’s descent. Seeking only to increase his own personal power, the Warlock performed the arcane ritual which he hoped would release and re-energize the fallen demipower. With few words did the Warlock release Dargeshaad, initiate the Warlock Strife, and precipitate the end of the Elders and an age of the world.
—Excerpt from Arcane Age by Ronassic of Mystral.
In the beginning, Dargeshaad was relatively weak, and unwilling to show his true face to either Polhemus or to the world at large. Feigning friendship for Polhemus, Dargeshaad bestowed upon the Warlock new powers of body and mind in exchange for worship and direct service. In time, the fortress of Ascavalon was built in the blasted lands upon the site of the original crater of the godling’s descent. Ascavalon was populated by so-called “Warlocks” made up of Elders who had arrived from far and wide across the face of the world. Those who answered Dargeshaad’s subtle summons were willing to offer their worship to the godling in exchange for esoteric powers. Among the Warlocks assembled in the fortress, many were mighty in their own right in magical craftsmanship and enchantment; these smiths forged the shield Bright Barrier as a gift to Dargeshaad.
Not long after Dargeshaad was gifted with the Bright Barrier, the demipower made his bid for world domination. Gathering his Warlocks into a devastating army of sorcerer-knights, Dargeshaad launched a crippling offensive into the heart of the civilized world. Dargeshaad himself strode at the vanguard of his armies, his Bright Barrier on one arm defending him from all harm, while his other hand dealt only death with a weapon stolen from Mathghamhna itself; the Halberd of Mathghamhna, renamed Betrayer. Any foolhardy enough to oppose his onslaught on the open field died quickly. Although the Elders fought with all the considerable might at their disposal, giving ground only after lengthy conflicts that raged for months (even years in a few cases), Dargeshaad’s warlock army proved in every case but one to be superior upon the field.
The citadel of Mathghamhna was the single rallying point for the embattled Elders. When all other strategic positions and important cities had fallen, Mathghamhna remained as a single light amidst the gathering gloom. Unable to penetrate Mathghamhna by brute force, Dargeshaad retreated to his fortress of Ascavalon to ponder this final hurdle preventing him from realizing his goal. Finally resorting to the sort of base trickery that had him exiled from the outer realms to begin with, the demipower dispatched his three most brutal lieutenants, proven in the previous years of conflict: the three sisters, individually named as Athalin, Kaerys, and Cinerine, collectively called the Witch Trinity.
It was given to the Witch Trinity to penetrate the fastness of Mathghamhna, betray its denizens, and lay bare the defenses of that previously impregnable fortress. Full of guile, black sorcery, and evil power bestowed by their godling mentor, the three sisters were able to make their way into Mathghamhna in the guise of friends and fellow defenders against the crazed demipower from the wastes. In only a few short months, Athalin, Kaerys, and Cinerine were able to penetrate the confidence and counsel of the inner circle of the defenders of ancient Mathghamhna, and win the complete confidence of the High Sorcerer himself.
Not much is revealed in the histories concerning the High Sorcerer of the Elder Era; even his name has been lost in the gulf of time separating the past from the present. It is known that the High Sorcerer and his inner circle were betrayed with sudden ferocity at the table of counsel. In a whirlwind of poison, knives, and black sorcery, the Witch Trinity slew the inner circle; the High Sorcerer faced his greatest extremity in mere seconds.
Seconds before the Witch Trinity would have ended the High Sorcerer’s life, the last defender of Mathghamhna pronounced the Speech of Twilight. Unrestrained magical flux ripped from his body, scattering the three sisters to fates unrecorded. The flux was of such magnitude that Heled shuddered; scholars believe the brunt of the burst was focused into the Veil.
The titanic discharge of magic either summoned or called into being an entity known as the Dragon of Shades. The Dragon of Shades was blacker than midnight and of such immense proportion that the breadth of its wingspan brought darkness to all the lands. Following the only compulsion lain upon it, the Dragon of Shades descended upon the Fortress of Ascavalon and did personal battle with Dargeshaad. An unrestrained elemental creature made up of equal parts shadow, power, and malice, the Dragon consumed the godling Dargeshaad, ending his threat and the Warlock Strife with one gulp.
As was feared, the Dragon of Shades was not satisfied with this single victory. A creature of rage and destruction, it turned upon the war-ravaged world, bringing civilization to a blazing, apocalyptic end. Rampaging across the length and breadth of the land, the creature brought a paroxysm of darkness and destruction with every breath and wing beat. Nothing could stop it. And the force of its summoning had blown the spark of life from the High Sorcerer’s body. Only after the Dragon had desecrated the face of the World and its passion burned low did it dissipate, allowing the wan light of day to reveal the full destruction the creature had wrought.
Thus ended the Elder Era. All of the Elders were slain or fled, leaving only the lesser races to rebuild after the departure of the ravening beast. While the Dragon of Shades prevented the world from entering a Dark Age of eternal subjugation to Dargeshaad, its catastrophic depredations caused the world more misery than some would have chosen to bear.