The road into Venne was teeming with merchants of every type. Enormous, slow wagons creaking under their weight of foodstuffs moved along slowly in the humid spring air, making their way purposefully towards the weather beaten walls of the new city. Everyone in the long, impromptu caravans kept calling it the new city, although the name was misleading: Venne had been razed during the first Kasnarian invasion, almost five hundred years earlier, and the city had been rebuilt to the south and west of its original foundations by about five miles, atop a hill more conducive to protection from siegecraft. People said that the new city was impregnable, that it represented, in stone, the strength and unity of the new Haarkedamian confederacy. In truth, the city was built as a focal point; a dam to break a tide of potential invaders streaming down out of the cold Barrier Peak mountains into the fertile hills and plains of Haarkedamia. On a lone, small hill sandwiched in between two of the Barrier Peak ranges’ greatest bastions, Venne stands.
In between the large, ox drawn food wagons, there moved innumerable smaller wagons: pony and donkey driven field carts, hand drawn two wheeled contraptions that looked to fall apart at any minute, and hordes of people just hauling everything they can upon their backs. Despite the drab attire and appearance of the miles-long line, the mood is a raucous, cheerful one. Everywhere are families talking excitedly while riding high atop their harvests of potatoes and squash. Grandparents sit on the backs of the family wagons and gesture to the low area impressed into the plain off to the right where Old Venne once stood, telling the tales of the invasion as they remember them, as they were passed onto them by their own grandparents.
Stories of black haired, pale skinned Kasnarian knights storming down out of the mountains on dark horses, gray standards on long poles unfurling to show the Tree: the great looming Kasnarian Oak that is the holy symbol of Kil, the god of the West, and thus god of all Kasnarians. An unstoppable horde of human violence, conquest, and fervor, rolling out of the West into the small, fragmented handful of states and free cities that made up the loose confederacy of Haarkedamia. The stories have not lost their potency. Children’s eyes widen at the picture of black lacquered plate armor and great hammers of gray steel bearing down upon their staid village lives. They form pictures in their minds: peat houses burning, chickens and ducks scattering in a panic through the dirt roads they’ve always known as screams sound out in the dawn of an early raid. They’ve heard these stories from birth. They know of the followers of Kil. They all have pictures in their minds. Of the elementalists.
None of these children are afraid of magic, they’ve known it all their lives. Even the poorest household has had a life touched in some small way by the essence, the magic that the East has known since before they bothered to write down anything. It suffuses their lives, the town priest can usually cure a leg broken in a fall from a split-rail fence with a prayer and a wave of a holy symbol. Hedge wizards sometimes stop into the town center, make a show of lights and sounds, sparks and illusions, takes a handful of silver from the appreciative townfolk, and then in turn spending the small handful of coins drinking the local beer and eyeing the barmaids before moving on, back to their mysterious work and pet frog that talks. A local merchant or minor noble may have some trinket they’ve all seen: a torch that never goes out, or the noble young rake who can walk from one end of a village to the other and still have boots that shine. These minor magics have always existed here, and are simply a part of a comfortable, known, life. But these comforts and familiarities still don’t console a child who hears a tale about the elementalists.
Men given over to the will of a god who controls the most basic aspects of reality. All facets of their own reality seen as weapons of destruction. The air they breathe bursting into flames, whole regiments of colorful soldiers turned to stone and then shattered into pebbles, stock ponds churning into boiling, sulfurous sores in the landscape. Even the essential distinctions of life and death skewed horribly: brave Haarkedamians who dropped dead at the merest gesture, whole town cemeteries emptying themselves of shambling corpses and skeletons, now endowed with glowing blue fires where eyes once dwelled, and possessed of inhuman strength and resolve, not recognizing old friends, neighbors, or family members, murderous in intent and deed.
The whole of the children know these stories, and gaze down the hill where Old Venne used to stand, picturing the largest battle their world has ever known. A battle outside the city walls. A desperate breakout attempt by the Guard, Haarkedamia’s small army. A fleeting chance to get out and rally the remaining armies of the Confederacy. As the breakout attempt begins, something goes wrong with the city itself. Seeing the city walls falling as the Kasnarian host ignores the galloping spearhead of Haarkedamian Guards and pours into the long suffering city, hearing the crackle of flames and the explosions as the elementalists who had moved the earth itself to get under the city walls finally blew apart those walls in a conflagration of flame and force. Feeling the shock and outrage of the Eastgate guards as their weapons and armor turned to dust before gale force winds scattered them into the dark of midnight like autumn’s final leaves.
Then the hero emerges. Valister Olorin. The name all these children know. The man who, alone in the city center, where he kept a humble home near the bell tower of the Lorian’s Crystal Cathedral, turned back the tide of invasion. Without a sword. Without armor. No helmet. His old brown robes and a walking stick. One man. Thirty thousand of Kasnaria’s best warriors, siege-crafters, and elementalists.
It was over in less than twenty minutes.
Over one hundred miles away, elves in the small Kingdom of Wood’s End were awoken by the final sounding of the Lorian Bell at Old Venne. The bell pealed four times, the final time so loudly that the few survivors of the breakout attempt who were still close by would complain to their final breaths of ringing deep in their old ears. At the final peal, the bell was heard to crack, and the city itself began to crumble in silence, all voices inside its violated walls quieted. The city slowly fell inward, as if it had once breathed, but was now dying. In the end, all that remained was miles of rubble, save for the city center.
In the clear of the town square, no stone had fallen inward. The area was clean. All that remained was Olorin, seated upon the wooden stool that had sat outside his house for years. He was unmarked, but winded. There were no other bodies, invader or defender. Whatever else had lived in within the city walls when the bell pealed, was just no longer there.
Those few who came back to look for survivors had found the seated Olorin, and approached him slowly, as he was the only living thing they’d seen in the long, careful clambering route they had taken from where the walls used to be to the city center. As the tale goes, the ranking soldier (a newly raised Eagle in the Confederacy army, a young man of twenty years) approached him carefully and laid his hand on Olorin’s shoulder. Olorin sighed, and ran a hand over his hair, which was now suffused with white where once only a chestnut color had been.
Then he rose, dusted off his robe, and faced the young Eagle.
“Are there any left in the city?” he inquired in a rasping, weary voice.
“No sir. We can’t find any bodies. But no one came out.” replied the amazed young man.
“Well then. I should rest. They’ll be back. I’ll have to be ready.” Olorin replied in a calm manner.
With that, Valister Olorin collapsed into the soldier’s arms. The soldier laid him gingerly onto the cobblestones and called in vain for a priest. His company’s cleric had died in the chaos surrounding the fall of the city. No one responds. The limping, dusty soldiers carefully wrapped Olorin in their remaining battle standard, and carried him from the rubble. He had ceased breathing.
Three days ago, an honor guard at Olorin’s Tomb in the heart of the new city had heard an unlikely sound: a knock, on the door behind him, coming from within the tomb. And a hoarse voice was heard to say, “They’re coming, I need my walking stick.” Followed by a muffled thud. Twenty minutes later, all the men the guard could find had finally pried open the tomb’s door, to find Valister Olorin, chestnut hair streaked with white, in an old brown robe, collapsed near the door, breathing but unconscious.
Today, all come to the city, to see the hero reborn.
7 - Berlin
7 years ago