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 idols fell to earth and flames were kindled in the greatest cities of the world. All to ash went the lives of one third of Sol’s children. Furious winds scourged the earth, bearing the tainted ash of the fallen, which still burden with lost souls and miscast hatred. Within these ashes was all manner of pestilence, and where they fell, no life would grow. Men and women fled their homes; the cities that still stood, stood empty.
But the wars did not cease. For each death another was demanded. Sin grew upon sin, murder outdid murder in atrocity, until sickened by Man’s suffering the earth split and sundered. Mountains rose and fell, rivers turned their course, the oceans raced to new lands. Across the world, great ruptures arose, like sores upon the land. Those left to quiver in the darkness called them gates to Hell.
And Hell, from them, emerged. Had the daemons that spewed forth waited, like buzzards circling some faltering prey, until Man broke his might against himself? Or had they answered a call, heard past the very boundaries of Creation? Were they summoned by the cacophony of a thousand thousand voices crying out in unison? Or, perhaps, had so many died that Hell, glutted, vomited back the spirits of the fallen to torment their killers? In the end, neither the question nor the answer mattered.
Wherever humanity hid, no matter how deep the darkness, remote the wood, high the mountain, Hell’s hunters found them. The daemons took many forms, as nightmares will do, unique but united in their horrific aspect. Those they killed knew more mercy than those they captured and dragged back to the Scars, toys to torment till welcome death took pity.
Those who cowered died. Those who fled died. Those who fought died. Those who prayed to the daemons, they too found death. The emptied riverbeds of the world were gutters for human blood, the open plains sacrificial altars. Mothers keened in the long night; children wept; the hearts of men failed them.
Only when their prey became scarce, when the tattered shreds of humanity became scattered threads, only then did the daemons creep back toward their hellpits, leaving behind bleached bones and unnatural silence. At last, they vanished altogether. Nothing but the scarred earth from which they had come marked their passage.
The madness ended, but in its grip Man had fallen into darkness that did not lift. Less than the creatures over which he had once been lord, the shadow of the shadow of his former glory, Man eked out a grim existence. And in this state, he long endured.
Over all manner of Beast, Sol gave Man dominion, such dominion as Sol claimed over Man himself.
In the Age of Darkness, when Man became as an animal, it passed that animals became as Men. These things were, perhaps, man’s folly made incarnate, false children of the false gods Man himself had forged. Having turned his back on the Creator, Man would soon find Creation had turned its back to him.
Whatever the cause, from brute instinct and the predator cunning came the seeds of a terrible intelligence. Not one, not once, but many, and many times over, were such creatures born, a new race to fill the empty places of the New Earth. Their bodies changed; they rose to stand like men, their paws, in mockery of Man’s grasping, grew thumbs. These new Beasts seemed the half-breed spawn of Man and animal.
At first, these inheritors carried on Man’s legacy of self-destruction, predator and prey in the same violent cycle despite newfound intelligence. Oblivious to their potential, heedless of their quickened wit, for a time the Beasts behaved no differently than they had before. In the plains they did battle, fang against tusk, horn against claw; so too in the forests, in the dark marshes and darker jungles.
Man, housed in his rude caves and clutching at his meager fare, paid little care to the newcomers. Greater horror had he seen, and what matter for him was it that of all the creatures he hunted and that hunted him, some now were different? Much had changed, and much had been forgotten.
So Man, hapless and helpless, left the Beasts to breed, to war, to thrive, and to learn. In time, they formed the rudiments of their own civilization. More bound to look to Earth than Heaven, their ways were those of nature. From living trees and weather-worn rock they made their homes, and silent glade and grove were, for the Beasts, as churches. Here they gathered in reverent convocations, worshipping their Mother Earth, studying the powers that had shaped them and still coursed through the world.
But even as the years rushed by, still the Beasts did not win mastery over the world. They hunted Man and harried him, but never sought his destruction. Gone was Sol’s solemn law that they bow before Man, but in their ignorance they saw their fallen lords as no more than another mindless animal, or perhaps some distant kin half-awakened to the truths the Beasts had found.
Humanity had long since sunk to the farthest depths of barbarism; his waning ended; a new cycle began. Rock turned to tool, stick to spear; from caves he came back to the air to build simple huts and crude altars. He clothed his nakedness in the skins of his prey. Mates became husband and wife. Families grew, and gathered to tribes. Man’s tongue remembered speech, and from speech came plans.
Just as Man had watched his unknown enemy gather itself for the war to come, so too did the Beasts abide Man’s return. The Beasts were too scattered, too bound to the unchanging earth and steady turn of seasons, to note that now Man hunted in packs and claimed prey beyond the small game of the past. Man became emboldened and proud, for of the mindless animals, no creature great or small could escape his hunger.
In this pride, Man began to hunt Beast. And so the Beasts took notice. At ritual gatherings, a sacred pact was made. No words were spoken, for as the flock turns, as the spawn returns to its distant home, each Beast simply knew the will of the others.
In unison, though in separate packs or as solitary predators, the Beasts fell upon Man. Across the world a second human harvest was reaped, though in this war Man fought back with savagery the daemons had not faced. Pushed once to the brink of destruction, to the depth of despair, Man no longer would cede his world to invaders.
From the light came Man, and to the light once more he strives.
As proudly as Man fought, as bitterly as each village defended its wooden palisade, still defeat followed defeat. For humanity was still scattered, and suspicion reigned even in the hour of tribulation. Across the world, a dozens languages were spoken, two dozen gods were worshipped, and two thousand slights were remembered even as the greatness of Man’s past was forgotten. Senseless feuding, base opportunism, and craven betrayal shattered any nascent bonds of fellowship.
It was in these times that 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.
In the end, however, as mortals must, the Prophet met his end, ensnared by a woman whose husband the Five had slain in a long-forgotten battle against a petty tyrant. With the Prophet’s death, the Five recorded his teachings and went their separate ways. Shining with the reflected light of their fallen teacher, the Five became beacons for Man in the troubled hour. To each flocked those fearful of the Beasts and those with courage to strive for more than mere subsistence.
Disciples of the disciples, these refugees took on the character of their chosen leaders.
One clan turned in reverence to studying the sacred text, the Codex Solaris, and eschewed worldly ways.
Another, led by a warrior driven nigh-mad by the Prophet’s murder, roved the fringes of human lands, holding back the onslaught of the Beasts.
A third traveled to the mountains and began, with stern will and a strong arm, to rebuild Man’s lost cities and reclaim the forgotten arts.
Yet another clan vowed silence and left behind their brethren, condemning them for the death of the Prophet. They journeyed into the heart of the Beasts’ realm, stalking the creatures that for so long had preyed on Man.
The fifth and final disciple, a man of commanding stature and great wisdom, set his standard on the central plains of the human lands and vowed to build from his followers an army that would reclaim Newerth for Man and spread the worship of Sol to all corners of the world.
As is the way of things, the brotherhood of the five disciples lasted only so long as their lives. As the generations passed, and the threat of the Beasts was kept at bay by the men who had dedicated their lives to the endless battle, mankind once more fell to squabbling. Each of the five clans viewed the others with a suspicious eye. As time passed, the clans became more and more committed to their distinct paths, and the distance between them grew only greater.
Each race unable to gather itself for total war, a stalemate endured between Man and Beast.
Sol promised, “In your time of need I will send you a champion, so that my children will not pass from the earth.”
And so it came to pass.
Even as it seemed impossible that the ever-divided, sometimes warring clans would ever unite, there arose on the plains a leader of unmatched valor and genius, Maliken Grimm. Grimm, in defiance of the most basic of the Prophet’s teaching, set all his will to finding a way to crush his brother Man. Alone among those who had arisen since the fall of the Ancients, Grimm conceived of the possibility of uniting by strength of arms the scattered children of Sol.
Convinced that the triumph of humanity justified any sin, and willing to sacrifice his own salvation so that Man could reign once more over Beast, he launched war after war against the other clans. His methods were brutal, his soldiers disciplined and unflagging. First he claimed the Builders, and set them to supplying his growing Legion of Man with weapons unmatched by those of his enemies. Next, he fell upon the Order of the Chapel, plied them with iron and gold alike, promising them mastery of men’s souls, vaulting churches, missionary armies to crusade against distant heathen pockets at civilization’s edge. And so now his Legion marched under the blessings and balm of Sol’s Chaplains.
It was against the Savages who had guarded Man’s borders for centuries that he knew he would face his greatest test. For a dozen bloody years, his armies launched invasions into their hills and forests, facing foes as brave as they were disorganized. Savage man, woman, and child alike fought; aged warriors sharpened their canes to spears and joined the ranks. Every acre the Legion occupied was filled with spies and hidden foes, and every mile was paid in blood. At last, the remaining Savage warriors banded together and faced the Legion in a final, desperate battle. But all their vaunted courage and lust for battle fell before the steady march of Grimm’s soldiers, who were endlessly supplied by Builders and healed by Chaplains. In the end, even the proud, free Savages swore fealty to Grimm and joined his Legion.
Wearied and bloodied by the last campaign, Grimm had little desire to face enemies even more shadowy and mobile than his last foes. He sent emissaries to the Scouts. Many divisions of Legionnaires marched into the distant wilderness, never to return. Whether it was Man or Beast who brought them doom, Grimm never knew, but at last, after two hundred had vanished, he himself led a band of chosen warriors to seek out the leader of the Scouts.
As he wandered the dark lands of the Beasts, he was afflicted by terrible dreams of an empty field, a lone hut, a wizened pagan human, made sexless by ravaging time, beckoning him, promising . . . something, he knew not what. Yet before he came to understand the nature of these nightmares, his army found itself surrounded by a force of Scouts.
Lethal bows were trained on every man. Legionnaires raised shields, hefted axes. Chaplains intoned prayers and curses. But Grimm, unfazed, ordered them to stand calm. From the ranks of the Scouts emerged their queen, a woman of severe beauty and ice-blue eyes. Her name was Andraste. Each leader, fearless and unconquered, was reflected in the other’s gaze; in that moment, they knew themselves.
More respect than love, for their hearts were long since hardened against weak emotions, the bond between them was instant and could not be broken. Silence held the armies; loyal soldiers for long years, they had come to know their masters’ minds and could see there would be no battle. Arms were lowered. Hands extended. And Man was united under a single banner.
The Earth turns from the Sun and day becomes night. The Earth turns back to the Sun and night becomes day. So it is with Man and Sol.
Bound together by Grimm’s iron will, guided by Astarte’s unmatched knowledge of the Beasts and their realms, Man began a war of reconquest that promised to restore civilization to Newerth. In battle after battle, the Beasts were beaten, driven from their lairs and dens, slaughtered by the hundred. Their skulls adorned weapons and fortress halls, their claws and fangs hung on the necklaces of brave warriors. For as long as King and Queen reigned, defeat was unknown.
Soon, to ensure that his death would not rupture mankind as had the Prophet’s, Grimm asked Astarte an heir. For him and for her people, she agreed, despite an unspoken fear in her heart. As the child quickened in the queen’s womb, Grimm’s nightmares returned to him once more, calling him to the empty, unknown glade. Pushing aside their secret worries, the two continued to lead the Legion in its conquests, but with the passing days, each became more certain of some ominous thing to come.
And so it did. Jeraziah Grimm, heir to the Legion’s crown, mighty even as a babe, was born to Maliken and Astarte. But he was born in blood and death, ripping his way untimely from his mother’s body. The mightiest healers of the Legion could not stanch the flow of blood; the most learned Chaplains could not coax life back into her cold flesh. The Prince was born; the Queen was dead.
Devastated by the loss, Grimm gave the rearing of his son to his most trusted advisors, left the destruction of the Beasts to his warlords, and sank into despair. He wandered his capital, Adkarna, in mourning black, prayed silently in each of the great cathedrals established throughout his lands, and, for five years, knew only bitterness.
It was in his wanders that he met the woman known as Sylvia. Raven-haired, imperious, like and yet unlike his lost queen, he found her in a village at the edges of his realm. She was wordless, but needed no words to convey her desire. Grimm drowned his grief in lust and soon returned to Adkarna with his new queen.
Though Grimm retook the throne with renewed vigor, it soon became clear that he was a changed man. The mute Queen ruled his heart, and soon her cruel nature revealed itself to all save Grimm. For a time, the Legion’s success was undaunted by her interference, for the courage of the armies and the wisdom of the general did not fade. But as gold was spent on ever more lavish palaces, as dissenting voices fell silent, as ill-planned raids left the doughtiest veterans dead, the Legion’s string of victories came to an end.
Grimm’s wise counselors dared not risk his ire by speaking out against the Queen. Trusting their master, they hoped he would soon realize her fell influence. But when she grew big with child, fear gripped their hearts. They knew that once she had borne him a child, she would conspire to kill young Jeraziah and set her own spawn as heir. In secret, they stole the Prince away and brought him to a distant monastery of scholar-priests where he would be secure. In his bed they put the corpse of dead peasant boy of similar mien and with magic and craft disguised the differences between them.
The King fell once more into grief, but some part of it lifted when Queen Sylvia presented him with a beautiful newborn daughter. Ophelia was a clever child and mischievous, and soon won the hearts of even those who loathed her mother. For a time, the conspirators allowed their affection for the child to cloud their vision of what was coming to pass. They hoped, indeed prayed, the girl would soften her mother’s heart or bring renewed wisdom to the King. But none of this passed.
For the first time in decades, Man had been ceding lands to the Beasts, falling back to the older fortresses and more defensible boundaries. And, with the death of their leader and the failures of the new Queen, the Scouts had begun to drift back to their distant reclusion.
So, though the conspirators still laughed at young Ophelia’s adventures with the castle hounds or smiled at her precocious horsemanship, they carefully plotted to destroy Queen Sylvia.
Because of their delay, the path had become far more difficult. The Queen surrounded herself with loyal bodyguards at all times and her agents hid in every part of the kingdom. Nevertheless, the councilors readied their weapons, prepared their spells, and hatched their plan.
Ambushing the Queen as she left the King’s bedchambers, the conspirators fell upon her guard. But even as they did, the Queen raised her hand and shot forth blasts of lightning, destroying guard and assassin alike. The survivors watched as she shimmered and changed, her shape shifting for a moment to that of a terrible bat-like Beast. With a piercing shrike, the monster raised its hands once more, and all around it were struck with blindness.
Shifting once more, now into the form of a giant cat, the thing known as Sylvia swept through the castle toward Ophelia’s room. Awakened by the tumult, Grimm staggered into the hall and saw the Beast race away. He grabbed his battle-notched sword and pursued.
Grimm cornered the creature in his daughter’s room. The giant cat’s jaws were closed, tenderly, about the girl, who in turn had wrapped her arms around its massive neck. Grimm raised his sword for slaughter, but in that moment looked into the Beast’s eyes and knew, knew it was Sylvia, knew what he had done, the abomination he had committed. He fell to the floor, retching and wretched, as his wife and daughter bounded into the night.
When at last the conspirators’ sight returned, day had broken. They found the King gone–vanished into the wilderness–and so too the Queen and Princess. Terrified that anarchy would be loosed upon the Legion, they swiftly recalled the hidden Prince Jeraziah and crowned the stripling king. For the disappearance of the royal family, they blamed a Beast assassin, and vowed to keep silent what they knew.
If a Man does sin against Sol, let him be punished, and his children also, and their children also, unto the last of them, for no good springs of evil. But if he should repent, let them be spared.
In time the boy became a man, and the Legion began once more to assert its greatness. Jeraziah was not the warrior his father had been, but had learned great wisdom in his youth and prized knowledge above all else. Under his watch, the sciences flourished, and new weapons gave Man a new edge over Beast.
Yet unbeknownst to the young King, the Beasts now had a Queen. Halfborn, gifted with Man’s insight and the natural understand of the Beasts, Ophelia was hailed by her new people as the avatar of the Goddess Earth. She remembered little of her time among the humans, but she witnessed firsthand the brutal violence they brought against the Beasts. She watched the Legion burn forests and slaughter the young, saw their cruel new weapons melt the flesh from creatures’ bones and blast the sacred stones of their lairs to splinters.
Unlike her brother, Ophelia had inherited her father’s gift for war. From the deep forests, she planned grand strategies, communing with the Beasts through the spiritual gifts given to her by her mother. Under her leadership, the Beasts struck at every weak point across the Legion’s domain; daring raids brought the horrors of war into heartlands long untouched by violence.
The unwitting fratricides fought for a decade in ever-worsening strife. On each side of the shifting borders, the dead mounted. Great pyres burned, mass graves were dug, sad laments and bitter howls echoed. In the deep fever of war, King and Queen alike were visited in a dream by their father. Haggard and changed, half-forgotten by the children, still they knew him and his voice. He promised each victory over the other if only they would find him where he waited, in a glade lost in the wilderness. He beckoned.
Raising their armies, each marched toward the appointed place. The vanguard of each host saw the other; the leaders knew their foes sought the same treasure; and each spurred the other to hasten all the more. At dawn, the two forces found themselves arrayed across the open field. In its center, Grimm stood, emaciated, mad, laughing with daemonic glee.
The armies charged, almost unbidden by their masters. Sorceries and spells of all manner crackled in the air. The blast of Man’s weapons, the howl of beast warriors, and the screams of the dying all filled the place with the symphony of a massacre. Ophelia and Jeraziah both watched in mounting horror as their people hurled their lives away on the field of battle.
At the climax of the butchery, a crack like thunder deafened the assembled armies. For a moment, all fell silent. The ground shook and rumbled and split open where Grimm had stood. Flames and ash and lava spewed forth. The stench of sulfur flooded the glade. At the pit’s edge, a claw emerged. Then another. And more. Pulling themselves up from the inferno below came daemons by the hundred, returned once more to Newerth.
The Hellbourne had come again.