He who turns from Sol faces his own shadow. And he who takes arms against his brother takes arms against himself.
– Codex Solaris
In the ancient days of the Lost Civilization, man alone ruled over the world, and all creatures, fish, and fowl paid him homage. Enlightened by their Creator with the gift of Science, there was nothing the Ancients could not do. This is known to all who have seen the sprawling empty cities deep in the jungles, defying the creeping vines and slow rot to remain a testament to Man’s birthright.
Humanity chose to fall from the light. Not content with mastery of all lesser beings, men sought mastery over each other. In violation of God’s will, they turned on their kindred. War such as never had been came to the land, and everywhere there was suffering. The manslayers forgot not only their bonds of kinship but also their bonds of obedience to Sol the Creator. They carved false idols whose burning light mocked His benevolence and cast these idols into the heavens.
– The Savage Scrolls
The god Ra knew all of this. He watched it happen from the true Heavens, helpless, as man had forsaken him in favor of the benevolent Sol long before The Collapse. The irony was biting; many of Ra’s worshippers had associated him with the sun, and he heard a cacophony of voices calling to him in the old tongue as the world burned to ash.
Yet he was powerless to intervene, as were the other Archaics supplanted by Sol’s disciples, by science and technology. These gods were completely forgotten or worshiped by tiny groups branded as cults, heretics, and cast aside. If only more had believed in the old gods, called for them, prayed to them, enough to enable them to appear in corporeal form—maybe then so many would not have died. Maybe the Hellbourne never would have risen.
Some of these Archaics turned their backs on mankind forever, judging them a lost cause. Others, like Ra, felt great sorrow at the destruction of all they had helped create, all that had been done in their honor to better the world. These gods longed to join man in his fight, but man had made Newerth the dominion of Sol, and it would be His glory or undoing.
And the old gods will be lost in man’s long shadow, cast by the burning sun.
– The Mantic Codices
After the First Corruption man even forgot the face of Sol and prayed only for survival. As the generations passed, a rekindling took place and man began to thrive once again. He worshiped dozens of gods, and these gods were appeased, content with what followers they had. Beast gods rose as well, elemental beings worshiped by the fauna of Newerth, equal to the gods of man as the two flocks battled for dominance.
And then the Blind Prophet came.
His vision seared away from staring too long into the sun, the Prophet was repaid with the sight of Sol’s truth. Across Newerth he traveled, guided and protected by a band of five warrior-disciples, recalling his brethren to the teachings of God. With a mighty voice and gentle hand he purged the infirm of sickness, stirred the failing courage in men’s hearts, and even called back innocents from beyond the veil of death.
His journeys were fraught with peril. For though the many loved him, those few whose hands were red with blood and souls were black with sin sought his demise. Clinging to power even as a fool drowning at sea grasps his comrade and thus dooms them both, these wicked men lay ambushes, poisoned meals, even drew their own blades against the Prophet. At every turn, the Five guarded him, killing sinful Man and ravenous Beast alike. And so the word of Sol spread, and everywhere the light of reason began to shine once more in Man.
– The Savage Scrolls
As Sol’s influence took root, the Archaics lost their power once again, worshiped by fringe elements who either disappeared—some say at the hands of the Five Disciples—or whose fervor faded into myth and folklore as the generations passed.
And so it came to be that the Five Clans were born, and Maliken Grimm united them and ground the beasts beneath his heel. He brought two children to Newerth born of blood and beasts and magic, and he summoned the daemons for the Second Corruption—and through it all the old gods watched, helpless as ghosts.
Until now, Ra thought. Now, he stood in the Heavens by choice, a messenger and liberator, not a prisoner. He cherished the recent memory of Newerth air, how it tasted, the feeling of true soil beneath his feet. He cared not that his reincarnation had been the result of a misguided coup attempt by the daemon known only as Pharaoh, who stumbled across the Grimoire of Power and was raised to Anubis Pharaoh.
Anubis conspired to murder Maliken and take the Hellbourne as his personal army, a plan that required a golem of Ra and a collection of artifacts that would bring about his rebirth as a slave of Anubis. But Ra seized the opportunity and adorned himself with the artifacts and became Risen Ra, the old god returned, slave to no one, and he would bring the Archaics back to Newerth for a reckoning.
But it would not be easy. Just as oxen require feed to pull the wagon, so do gods need faith and devotion to serve their flocks. The Grimoire had imbued Ra with the power to walk upon Newerth, but the other Archaics had no such blessing, and their names were only spoken in bedtime stories and careless curses. Reverence, a god’s fuel, eluded them.
Which is why Ra sought Guan Yu among the Heavens, and found him gazing upon his homeland, the Sang-La Mountains. The peaks and valleys were scarred from centuries of battles Guan Yu could not command, or better yet prevent. The paths were stained with his people’s tears, which he could not reach down to staunch.
“Emperor Guan,” Ra said. “Your loyalty and righteousness have never waned. Nor has your courage. But those cannot serve mankind from here.”
“This is so,” Guan Yu said, his eyes never leaving his people. “But Newerth is a temple, and one does not enter another’s temple unless invited. We, my friend, are no longer invited.”
“I have been,” Ra said.
Guan Yu finally looked at him. He examined the divine golden armor, the battle axe topped with a fiery golden eagle’s head, the flowing headdress and golden sun rising above Ra, bound within an asp. He struggled to keep his voice level. “They pray to you again?”
Ra tread lightly: “Not as yet. But I was summoned, and now I move between the Heavens and earth at will. I ask you to join me. Once on Newerth, your human form will allow you to remain, even if your worshipers are not yet able to maintain your divine state. Once they see you, believe in you again, your power will grow. The same will happen for the other Archaics.”
“Other?” Guan Yu said. “We are all returning?”
“Not all, not yet. There are a select few who have roots hidden deep within the heart of man, reaching back before the Five Disciples, who will thrive quickly and clear the path for the rest. I will appeal to those gods the same as I have to you. This first journey is one of great honor. I can think of no god better suited, Emperor Guan.”
Guan Yu ran a finger over the scales of his glorious red and gold dragon armor. In any other realm it would have been covered in dust and pocked with decay, so long had it lain dormant.
“I will take this journey,” he said, “and strive to be worthy of my people’s love.”
Ra escorted the god Guan Yu to Newerth and presented him to the men and women of the Sang-La villages. As the people fell to their knees in disbelief that quickly turned to elation, Ra moved to a respectful distance. They produced offerings that Guan Yu in turn shared with the givers and those most in need, and all were blessed for following the codes of brotherhood and righteousness.
Ra ascended to the Heavens once again to seek the Archaic gods who could best help man and beast drive the Hellbourne from the scarred face of Newerth. With Guan Yu returned, the warlords of the western Sang-La Mountains would feel their courage renewed—now Ra considered who the warriors throughout Newerth would follow into battle.
He found Svarog and Zeus together, gazing into the embers of Svarog’s massive forge as the Heavens eased into twilight. Svarog had once been worshiped for reforging the sun every night so it could rise again come morning. Now his brass skin reflected the dull glow of the forge, tended by his rough hands for centuries while he waited for his flock to call him back to Newerth. When they needed his tongs and hammer, he would be ready.
As always, the storm within Zeus permeated the space around him, his white hair and beard crazed by an invisible wind. Ra sensed that unlike Svarog, Zeus stared into the embers not with patience and concern for mankind, but with simmering anger at those who brought suffering upon his people: the Hellbourne, and foremost among them, Maliken Grimm.
Ra told them of Guan Yu’s return to Newerth, and offered them the same.
“Return?” Svarog’s beard of flames burned brighter. “Walk again upon the Iron Mountains, drink from her streams, and forge weapons and armor for her people?”
“Your people,” Ra said.
“Yes,” Zeus added. “What’s left of them. Tell us, Ra—from your visits to the mortal land, how have Sol’s children fared against the daemons?”
“Not well,” Ra said. “Nor has the land itself. It is riven, and churned, and sodden with blood.”
Zeus continued to stare at the embers, a mad gleam in his eyes. “‘In your time of need I will send you a champion, so that my children will not pass from the earth.’”
The Archaic gods had long heard the Disciples preach the words of the Codex Solaris. These words were often the last they heard spoken to followers before the gods were shut from their hearts. But to hear it from Zeus, in mockery, was unsettling to all present.
Ra said, “It is not Sol’s fault the Hellbourne are so strong. Nor do his followers wish to die by their fell weapons and magic.”
“Not Sol’s fault?” Zeus scoffed. “The champion he sent betrayed his god, his brothers and sisters, and summoned the very creatures who now slay them by the score.”
Svarog poked the embers with his tongs. “To me, this speaks more to the strength of the darkness than it does the frailty of the light.”
Zeus arched an eyebrow. “Spoken like a true sun deity, and I see the burning Ra agrees. Do not forget, brothers, the first time these Hellbourne emerged we and our people sent them crawling back without Sol’s divine helping hand.”
“Centuries ago,” Ra said, “yet do not think I have forgotten a single moment of that suffering, or include me in your delusions of victory. Our people were diminished to worse than savages, and did not pray to us again for hundreds of years. We were as powerless as we are now, and can share no glory for their survival.”
At this Zeus spun to face Ra. “You speak not for me and my people. There are many leagues among the Frost Fields where no daemon footprint has been left. You call us powerless. I say we are swords trapped in a scabbard—as sharp as ever, all we need is to be drawn. And you can do this? You can set us against the Hellbourne?”
“Yes,” Ra said, “but—”
“Then why do we stand still?”
This outburst echoed through the Heavens and fell upon the ears of many gods. When Odin heard mention of the Frost Fields his thoughts went to his beloved son Thor, one of many confined to Newerth, though by choice or sentence, Odin could not be sure. He called the wise raven Muninn to his shoulder and tugged his loyal hound Freki’s furry ear, then walked the eight-legged steed Sleipnir toward Svarog’s forge.
There Zeus told him, “Odin, prepare yourself for war. We are talking our people back from Sol and returning them to their days of splendor.”
“I feel,” Odin said, “you mean our days of splendor.”
Zeus frowned, then addressed all present. “Our prosperity means theirs. If we are allowed to wield our power, those who praise us will benefit.”
“And those who do not?” Odin said.
Zeus seemed even more confused. “What do they matter?”
“If we are to help man and beast see another generation,” Odin said, “they matter most of all. We cannot waste time and lives battling Sol—or each other—for followers. If I know your heart Zeus, you seek most the devotion of those heroes who carry the flags upon the battlefield, who stand in bloody armor when the dust settles and vow to avenge the corpses at their feet.”
“You speak of champions,” Zeus said. “My progeny. Should I not welcome their worship?”
Odin said, “You miss my point: the corpses. I have gnashed my teeth in impotent fury as the Hellbourne slaughter countless innocents, some who prayed to me for aid. Or you, Zeus. You, Ra. Svarog. Most simply screamed. We could help none of them. Sol is not our enemy, nor his followers. That honor lies with Maliken Grimm and his Hellbourne.”
Quetzalcoatl heard all of this and stirred from his place among the Heavens. He stretched his feathered wings, long furled, eased his headdress into place and traveled to Svarog’s forge. He landed next to Odin as the god finished speaking.
Zeus spat. “Another lord of sunshine and compassion. Neither of which will sharpen a blade or feed a regiment.”
Quetzalcoatl said, “As with all of you, I have been confined here since Sol’s Disciples spread over Newerth. Longer than most of you, in fact, as the Blind Prophet spent many days among my people, south of the Rulian Marshes, where the sun shines unhindered by clouds. There he gazed upon it, earned his namesake and began his campaign.”
Zeus spat again; the Disciples of the Blind Prophet had brought much suffering to the Frost Fields.
Quetzalcoatl said, “Since then I have studied and read all that man and beast set forth as knowledge and wisdom. Much of it is folly, of course, but it is fact to them, and only a divine guiding hand will sway them from their path upon false ground. I am very troubled by what passes for enlightenment among my people, those who once looked to the west for Quetzalcoatl, their god of wind, light, and mercy.”
“Wind indeed,” Zeus said.
Quetzalcoatl ignored him. “I have heard what Odin says, and I agree. Our followers have all had disagreements, even war, between and among one another. It is time for us to fight as one, and seek not praise from man and beast, but praise them for enduring in the face of terrible adversity.”
Zeus’s beard rippled in the storm surrounding him. “Praise mortals?”
“Respect them,” Quetzalcoatl said.
Odin nodded. “And in turn, earn their respect. Once again.”
“Fear is respect,” Kali said. None of the gods had noticed her approach or knew how long she had been among them, her dark blue flesh blending into the dim light at the edge of the forge.
“Finally,” Zeus said, “another among us speaks sense.”
Kali smiled and made signs of blessing with her right hands. “Hold your tongue, cloud gatherer, I have not yet finished. Fear is respect, and the enemies of man and beast—our enemies—shall fear us. But the days of frightening our children into loving us are over. Time brings change to everything, and we are no exception.”
The assembled gods felt the truth of this, all but Zeus, who still doubted and resisted.
“Kali,” Ra said, “there more truth to that than you know. I have felt, as did Guan Yu upon reaching Newerth, a vast dilution of power. Until we earn the trust and praise of our followers once again, we are no stronger than the great champions who roam the fields of battle.”
This news struck Zeus harder than any physical blow. The reality of it all seemed to settle over him like a heavy cloak.
“So we return to Newerth as near mortals.” Zeus gave a harsh laugh. “Sol has buggered us all, hasn’t he? Well, I have walked as man and beast before, albeit in disguise. Let’s see how my true form fares.”
Ra surveyed the gods. Svarog, tongs and hammer ready, his beard burning brightly. Zeus, scowling in the midst of a storm that built to a frenzy. Odin, with his raven and hound and steed, all prepared for war. The bright feathers of Quetzalcoatl’s wings, tail and headdress rippling as he spread his arms. Kali the Destroyer, her arms seeming to float in the darkness as she danced in anticipation of victory.
Ra said, “You are the chosen gods. I am honored to share the battlefield with you, and together regain the faith of our people. We must rid the world of the daemons, and show man and beast the err of their ways. First we will help them to survive. Then, to live.”
And Ra gathered the gods near to him, and took them from the Heavens to Newerth once again.