World (Move your mouse to reveal the content) World (open) World (close) The Frozen Land (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Frozen Land (open) The Frozen Land (close) In the idyllic Elysia, the Northern gods ruled here. Now in the Frozen Land of Pégulis the earth is covered in a bone-chilling glacier and the wind blows ice and snow so bitterly cold that every rattling breath feels like shattered glass pressing into the lungs. The only colors here are white and gray – the sky is always overcast, the igloos in which sentientkind huddle for warmth empty of furniture or decoration, besides sleeping bundles made hypothermic through special spells. Yet these rare resources are falling apart, the magic fades, and there are precious few who know how to enchant them; and every night, another person grows chilly and deathly silent forever. Still there are those who hang on to the hope that the curses on the ice, clouds and stone might be lifted … but the bitter, paralyzing anathemas can only be satisfied with the awakening of an ancient god, known to the histories in different times and regions as Libras, Libretas, Liber and Literos. Many legends surround him, but all that is certain is that he was mortally wounded in a decisive divine battle and fled the known world to recover. He has not been heard or seen of since, and some Pégulians despair of ever finding him, if even they believe he ever really existed. Taevak The easternmost Pégulian city, Taevak is located in a bitter-cold evergreen forest behind the mountain range separating Kausteira from Pégulis. In the ancient days, before the Cataclysm, Pégulis was a flourishing forest and grassland with a pleasantly cool mountain range in the north and seven proud cities, each with their own representative animal, but all have fallen except for Taevak and Ald. Its symbol is the Bear, and its inhabitants have always been fierce wintry hunters; many Forest Kin there have bloodlines more ancient than anywhere else in the world. It is built of stones from the nearby mountains. Barval Barval is the newest Pégulian city, erected by the Blue President herself. In the old tradition, Pahkné also gave it an animal symbol: the Osprey, same as her aenigma Murkahal. The homes are a cleverly constructed array of largely natural and partially man-made tunnels and cave systems inside the mountain that can be kept toasty and safe even as blizzards and predators roam outside. The diet consists largely of seafood, especially during winter, as there is very little vegetation available, but in the summers the temperature can drop to a pleasant coolness and all sorts of small game can be hunted, especially migratory birds and herbivorous herds. Originally a death trap for travelers who sought to cross the mountains but got lost, Pahkné used her magic and survival skills to protect wanderers who would otherwise have been lost, attracting them to warmth and food with the pulsing violet light glowing from her staff, which, being magical, could shine purely through snow and sleet. Soon she had enough citizens to make a real city, and after securely founding Barval, she claimed meager border territory to the south and repopulated Taevak and Ald. Besides plenty of Zmaragdosi who know about Ald and a handful of nomads familiar with Taevak, Barval and the Pégulian nation have remained secret. In return for shelter at Barval, travelers must become citizens if they want to have the freedom to stay as long as they like and be taught the secret tunnel and subterranean passages that can lead them to Zmaragdos or Kausteira safely. If they should refuse, they are expelled from the city and left to fend for themselves in the arctic wild. So far that has happened rarely and no reports of any survivors on such occasions have reached the public ear. All citizens must swear never to divulge the secret of Pégulis, and everyone knows that you should never break an oath to a sorcerer, especially a powerful and clever one…. On maps the frigid northern mountains are simply labeled "uncharted territory", and Pahkné intends to keep it that way … until revealing herself will be convenient. Ald The westernmost Pégulian city, Ald is perhaps the oldest city in Sunnepheia. Even when, after the Cataclysm, Zmaragdosi citizens moved very far northwards and claimed the cold city of Quelt and others near it, Ald was left well alone: the Forest Kin of Zmaragdos have never forgotten that a terrible event of obscure but peerlessly horrific nature occurred there, and in their superstition avoid it as much as possible. The government is aware that some people live there, but they are dismissed as ignorant travelers seeking temporary shelter. Few Zmaragdosi have ever overcome the hostility of their elders to discover that Ald is a restored, bustling city, Pégulis's largest and most successful, full of trade and even libraries. Still, its history is dark. Its symbol is the Cedar Tree, and indeed, in Elysian times it was the capital city of the land that now is called Pégulis. The city was once built around the oldest, largest, most magnificent tree in the world, but its name has been lost to time. As the Pégulians know, it was made of and exuded a powerful magic, though what that magic was for is forgotten. In any case, it came about one way or another that some mighty deity (or deities) struck it down with fire, poison or lightning, or perhaps a holy combination of them all; and its destruction left a scorched crater where once the heart of the western jungle had been. CHAPTER ONE Fire From Heaven Theme Song (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Theme Song (open) Theme Song (close) [video=youtube;IXCinW-tECE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXCinW-tECE[/video] The Blue President held out her staff so that the lavender orb at its top throbbed with a surge of fresh power, pulsating in a steady beat like a primeval drumbeat. With her free right hand hovering above the ailing man's tremoring chest, she murmured underneath her breath and shut her eyes tight. Gradually his erratic breathing slowed to match the slow, languorous rhythm of the orb in the staff. Pahkné's aenigma fixated the dazed man with a piercing dusk gaze. Put your hand on your heart, he ordered, and, shakily, the man did so. Now beat, the osprey cawed, to the thrum of the healthy heart. The man patted his chest, shakily and unsteadily at first, then closer and closer to the pulse of the dusky orb, until finally, for many heartbeats, it matched perfectly. The glow died down abruptly and Pahkné's hand fell to her side. She looked up from beneath the fall of long black tresses and smiled beneficently at the steadily breathing man, keeping careful accord between hand and heart. A sheen of sweat glittered across her forehead. Murkahal looked up sharply beside her. Someone's coming, he said. "What is it?" she asked as a comrade walked in. "I would like a moment of peace with this man." The woman's flinty eyes darkened. "It is urgent, comrade." Pahkné's mien tensed. She raised herself from her position kneeling at the ailing man's bedside and reached out an arm for Murkahal to alight upon, his silver sheen glimmering quietly as he ruffled his grey feathers."Lead me," she said, and left the long stone cavern, dotted with four other such beds, without looking back. "It's the Comrade of the Skies," the beady-eyed woman was saying, her pale brown hair swishing as a faint, freezing breeze passed. "There's something … he felt that you should see." A line between her brows and the tightness of her lips, the way the eyes widened slightly and the fingers shifted, and Pahkné saw unmistakably how nervous the woman was. Anvasha was not one for unease or drama, so the expression concerned her. Though, what could the Comrade of the Skies really have found that was so disturbing? The real danger lay in the cracking, melting, splitting, gaping ice beneath. They made their way through the intricate tunnel system. Both knew the way by heart, though there was little to guide them but the pulsing lavender light of Pahkné's staff and a few precious flickering torches and oil lamps attached to the walls, to indicate crossing points. All at once the ground grew rockier, the path became steeper and the temperature plummeted abruptly. The toasty heat of subterranean Barval, enabled by magics of a rebel empire long dead, suffused the belly of the mountains still, but were fraying and unravelling at the edges. Pahkné and other Pégulian sorcerers did the best they possibly could to restore and uphold the spells, but they could not stop the natural erosion of time. Here, at the edge of the cold ward, a deep, unearthly chill began sinking into Pahkné's bones. Outside the noon air was so crisp and brittle it might be cut with a dagger. A raucous wind howled as it buffeted the ice cliffs. And Pahkné had to squint and flinch when the impossible shining brilliance of the frosty landscape outside reflected the sun's full white glare in her eyes. Even Murkahal shifted uncomfortably, his silver sheen coruscating like snow crystals where it caught the light. Their plain clothing whipped in the screaming gale and Pahkné shivered uncontrollably – and then they dipped back into shadow and darkness and warmth, the welcoming mouth of another tunnel looming wide. It was the topmost room of the settlement, and the snaking, unsteady path the comrades took wound in circles upwards until they arrived at their goal: the Observatory. Snow crunched beneath Pahkné's boots, and she drew her cloak tighter around herself as the cold ward ebbed once again. The open tower gazed up at a chalky sky, thick with heavy clouds, though the wind had died down to a whisper at this height. Behind the President, Anvasha greeted the Comrade of the Skies with an upheld fist and a solemn gaze. "Comrade Kaol," Pahkné greeted him, somewhat apprehensively. "I heard it was urgent." "Comrade Pahkné. I would not ask you here without due reason," Kaol said sincerely. "Please … turn around." A small black bat peered out through his long fair hair from the cup between neck and shoulder, its startling indigo eyes fixed on a distant point in the sky over Pahkné's shoulder. She turned and gasped. "What is it?" And then: "No. No, it cannot be…" Kaol nodded darkly. "…A dragon." COMRADES! May all those who name themselves comrades of the free nation of Pégulis who are able of body and sharp of mind answer the call to protect the nation's heart and rid Barval of a fiery pestilence: Dragons fly above and their iron bellies shall be filled with our swords!