House of the Rising Phoenix - Great Library - Lore

The Seven Modwirs

A story transcribed by Mnar Akurion, for the House Phoenix History Archives.

The path leading to the village was covered with a thick layer of leaves and humus, releasing with each step the faint scent of decay into the air. Sunlight would occasionally breakthrough the thick canopy above me, sending down natural spotlights to create a patchwork of light and dark amongst the underbrush. Spring had passed by months ago, and the temperatures in the forest were stifling, made no easier by the almost turgid humidity. Not for the first time I wished that my armor was a bit lighter, or that the cloak draped over my shoulders weighed less heavily. The dirt path continued through the lush forest for several miles leading to my destination, where it expanded into a rough boulevard.

To either side of me stood quaint, thatched hunts, managing despite their crude design to convey a sense of neatness and timelessness, a property commonly found among elven residences. Of course, simply seeing the large number of elves about the street and forest would be enough to convince anyone that this was, indeed, an elven village.

Counting off the houses on my left, I approached the sixth and rapped quietly on the modwir door, noting briefly the fine craftsmanship that had gone into its assembly. I heard a brief scuffling sound behind the door, followed by a woman's voice calling out, "One moment."

I waited considerably longer than a moment, and was about to raise my hand to knock again when the door swung open halfway. Standing inside was an elderly female elf, her frame stooped slightly through centuries of work. Whether or not her hair had always been silver I couldn't tell, as many elves were born with such. It was still full and lustrous though, and her eyes held a sparkle of mirth that no amount of aging could erase.

Putting on my best smile I began, "Good afternoon, ma'am, my name is-"

She cut me off with a squeal, "Oh, I know you! You're the Ta-lairi from the marketplace this afternoon, who wanted to hear my stories!"

I blinked. I'd never heard an elf squeal before. In fact, I hadn't thought it was possible. However, she was already turning back into the house, and I stepped in after her.

The inside of the hut was a stark contrast to its crude exterior. On the far wall a small fire played inside a stone fireplace, heating a kettle of water suspended on a brass hanging rod. Steam trailed from the kettle's stem, and as I took a seat she poured a bit of water into two small porcelain teacups.

"How do you like your tea?" she asked me, pulling a small jar out of a cupboard near the fire.

I told her, and shortly had a cup of steaming honeyed tea placed in my hands. A moment later the elderly woman had taken as seat across the table from me, and took a delicate sip from her tea.

"You wanted to hear stories, was it?" she asked, looking at me over the rim of her cup. I blinked again. Her tone was now quite serious and thoughtful, not at all like what I had heard earlier. Recovering quickly, I nodded, and told her the specifics of my request.

"Yes, I'm researching the Unlife as part of my duties for my House, and as part of that research I'm collecting local stories and legends. You said at the market that your family knew several folk tales regarding the undead and such, and I was hoping to transcribe them."

She nodded slowly, then spoke with a hint of admonishment in her voice that grated on my nerves. "You do know that the undead and the Unlife aren't the same thing, don't you? The undead are the spirits and bodies of those..." I sighed as she droned on in a lecture that I'd heard a hundred times. For some reason, whenever I asked people about the Unlife, they launched into a dissertation on the differences between the Unlife and the undead, as if I was an ignorant country boy. Still, there might be something interesting in her interpretation of those differences, so I forced myself to pay attention.

"...the Unlife, on the other hand, is an evil force related to the undead in some manner, which I'm not sure I understand.. Oh but I'm sure you've heard this a dozen times." She smiled sweetly at me. I smirked.

"Yes, anyway, you said you had a few folk tales you could share with me?"

She tilted her head for a moment, then nodded slowly, placing her cup on the table. Looking back up at me, she said "There are several sylvan tales about the undead, though not so many regarding the Unlife. The Unlife hasn't been an active presence in our world for several thousand years, back before even my grandparents were born. Is that alright?" I nodded, for tales about the undead were just as valuable to me. Motioning for her to begin, I slipped a scroll of vellum out from my cloak, and began quietly scratching at it with a fountain-quill as she spoke.

My family had always lived in the Seven Modwirs, the last of the great sylvan cities to still exist. The Modwirs was established shortly after the Wars of Dominion, which had set into motion great migrations of displaced people, including my own. For years my ancestors wandered, searching for a stretch of forest that had escaped destruction. Eventually, in an area northwest of the town you call Rivers Rest, they settled down and formed seven villages, each centered around a massive modwir tree. Over the years, the villages grew in size, and eventually merged into a single city, which was called the Seven Modwirs. It was over a century before we felt secure in our new home, and even so many of our older citizens wandered off into the forests, eventually dying in a futile search of the splendor that was the elven cities of old.

Uneventful centuries passed, and the Modwirs slowly grew to be indistinguishable from our old cities, and we felt that we had finally found a place to call our own again, safe from the ravages of the other races. But we were not alone in that great forest, and our arrival had not gone unnoticed. After years of watching and waiting the heart of the forest turned out a host of horrors, creatures gated into our world during the Wars of Dominion for use on the battlefield, but which had escaped and ravaged the land, seeking for life to consume and feed their hunger. These were the first of the minor demonics now known as Vruul.

We sylphs are not a warlike race, but neither are we passive, and for many weeks we were able to stave off the fiends. But for every Vruul that fell to our spears, three or more brave warriors lost their lives. We began to lose hope, and many of our people were preparing to flee into the forest when a stranger appeared at our gates, asking to speak with our monarch.

It is our custom that anyone who wishes to speak with the Queen may do so, and so the foreigner was brought to our court. He was a dark elf, the first many of us had ever seen, with sable black skin and long silver hair tied back with a simple leather thong. He spoke as one who was old and wise, but he seemed barely old enough to be considered an adult. He was impetuous to our Queen, and was about to be dismissed and thrown back into the forest when he made an offer.

"I can save your city from these demons," he said proudly, shaking off the guards who held him and coming to stand before the Queen's throne. "You cannot last another month against these horrors, soon they will breech the walls of your precious city and set it afire. Within days there will be none of you left alive, and a month after the last of you have died all memory of your existence will fade."

And there was silence as he finished, for all present knew the truth in his words. The tide of demons from the forest seemed endless, and already the militia was predicting that within a week it would be unable to guard all sections of the wall. The silence ended moments later as chaos erupted, each member of the court demanding to the Queen that they do as the Dyari asked, and accept his aid.

Our Queen was neither strong-willed nor brave, and with no pretense of superiority did she beg the Dyari for his aid. "We will give you anything," she said to him.

The foreign elf smiled, and told the Queen to withdraw her troops from the city walls. "There is no need for more to perish in hopeless defense." Clamor erupted from the assembled, but he reassured them that all would be taken care of.

"I need only one thing to from you to insure victory," he said, ascending the dais to stand next to our Queen. "Your dead."

There was silence for a moment as the implications of his request sank in, and then quiet murmurs. Tales had been told during the past centuries of a new magic come to the land, the magic of necromancy, the ability to raise the dead and command their actions. The newer nobility, who had come to power since the founding of our city, were nodding and began to cry out their support and acquiescence. But the older nobility, those who had fought in the Wars of Dominion, and knew the horrors of the undead, began to question the Dyari's intentions, and called out to their Queen to deny him.

But our Queen was weak, and fear of death at the hands of the Vruul easily overrode the warnings of a few old sylphs. Backed by the majority of the court, she acceded to the elf's demands, and placed the resources of the kingdom at his disposal.

His first order was to remove our troops from the city walls. Many questioned the wisdom of this, but he was assured that the Vruul would not attack, and so our soldiers quickly and gratefully left their posts unguarded. That night was a nervous one for our people, not knowing if we would wake up to an undefended attack, or wake up at all.

But morning came, and with it a surprise. Once again our walls were guarded by troops, standing still as stone and gazing perpetually out into the forest. However, as we drew near them we saw that there was something different, something wrong with them, at a fundamental level of existence. Each wore the livery of our militia, and their features were as sylvan as if they'd been plucked out of our midst. What horrified us, though, were the ragged tears along their uniforms and the flesh beneath, mortal wounds that issued no blood, broken limbs that clenched spears and halberds with a strong grip, and dead, sightless eyes that scanned the forest for the Vruul.

A clamor began to grow among us, as our panicked minds realized what we had purchased for our freedom. Shouts began ringing across the Great Square as we saw the first of the defiled graves, the earth beneath the tombstones churned and broken as those interned beneath them chose to leave. Those at the front of the crowd began shoving at those behind them to get away from the undead sentries, even as those at the rear pushed forward, to see what had caused the commotion. It was a disordered morning, more chaotic than even our eldest could remember. Eventually, a congregation made its way to the court, and demanded to their Queen that the abominations that lined their walls be destroyed, and that the necromantic stranger be cast out of their city. The Queen listened to the pleas of her citizens with care, then stood and addressed them.

"I have spoken with the Dyari, and he has assured me that this is the only way our city will survive. Can any of you tell me that the evil we fight is any less worse than these undead which now guard our walls? Are we not justified in our use of these creatures, in that they are our only hope? Shon'ahreni has assured me that we will suffer no more indignities to save ourselves, and once the Vruul have left our dead will once again find the rest they deserve."

The crowd murmur uneasily, but the Queen's words were convincing, and in a time of crisis people will grasp at straws. And so, to our eternal shame, our city fell under the voluntary protection of the undead.

For weeks the Vruul battered at the city's new defenses, but made no headway. Each soldier who was dragged down by the Vruul's claws killed two of the demons before shuddering and ceasing their unholy movement. For another week demons battered at our city's renewed defenses, while inside the city wall tensions began to build.

It started, predictably, with the priesthood. Dedicated servants of the Gods of the Seasons, they elves decried the use of the undead, even in such dire circumstances. Better that we all perished and our race be forgotten, they said, than to submit ourselves to this necromancer and his creations. For the first week the queen and the rest of her court were willing to ignore the protests from the temple, so long as the undead were doing their job and had the support of the people. However, the undead soldiers were not indestructible, and the unending tide of invaders became more daring, occasionally breaching the wall and holding to parts of the city before reinforcements could be called in.

The Queen consulted with the Dyari about the city's defenses, and he proposed a new way to bolster the walls. The priests and clergy who so protested the use of the undead, let them take up arms and back up their empty claims with their lives. If they were truly faithful, then should they not be willing to defend their temple in the place of the undead? The Queen saw the logic of his twisted proposal, and so the priests and their attendants were given weapons and shields, and forced upon the walls with the undead they so detested. A small section of the clergy, those that worshiped Lorminstra, Goddess of Winter, refused to even go near the city walls and partake of the defenses. The Queen considered their actions carefully, then ordered them cast out from the city they were unwilling to defend. To no one's surprise, they were instantly set upon by the demons and consumed.

The cities new defenders lasted no more than a day, but for each that fell and whose body was recovered, a new zombie appeared on the wall, fighting far more effectively than they had in life. In this fashion the city held off the demons for another fortnight.

By then the city had become a lonely place, with nearly half the population dead and the other half unwilling to leave their homes. It was only in the Queen's court that life continued normally, even festively, with a grand feast held every night in honor of the Dyari who had saved their city from such a horrid fate. At the end of the 10th eve, though, the stranger took the Queen aside and quietly confided to her his fears.

The next morning the Queen assembled her court and ordered that the cities remaining living soldiers would be returning to the walls, to replace the sagging undead defenses. It was the only way to save our city, she assured us, and though we feared greatly for their safety, we sent our men again to the walls. Over the course of the next month they would slowly fall to the demons and be replaced in death by their own bodies. Leather armors cracked, and shattered against the claws of the demons, but the undead soldiers continued to beat them back effortlessly, until the coming of mid-summer's eve.

On that day, usually celebrated by our people as the most glorious time of the year, the undead in our city outnumbered the living. Few of us, however, took note of it at the time. Our Queen was again predicting victory against the demons, if only we could hold them off for another week, while the stranger bolstered our defenses with new corpses.

Also on that day came the greatest attack yet by the demons. Thousands of them poured out of the trees surrounding our city and scaled the palisade, their small wings flapping vigorously to ward off the arrows of our few remaining bow-men. Unlike their previous assaults, they didn't attack the zombies, instead sweeping over them with their sheer numbers, ignoring the losses they incurred. Down the tree-lined boulevards of our home they ran, falling upon those elves who had fallen behind the panicked mob fleeing towards the center of the city. With a breach then formed in the wall, more demons were able to pour through into our city, unopposed by the undead soldiers, who were slowly withdrawing towards the Queen's court to make their stand.

When the remains of our populace reached the court they found her reclining languidly upon her throne, conversing and laughing with the Dyari, who stood by her side. When she heard the terrified pleas of her people, she admonished them for their lack of faith.

"Shon'ahreni tells me that all is going according to plan, and that this is the final, futile attack of the Vruul, who will be crushed against our defenders. Watch now as our spears pull down the last of these horrors, and we shall emerge victorious!"

And some of our people did watch, those who were too tired to run further, or who believed the Queen's madness even in the end. But most of the elves present for the Queen's words were already fleeing back into the streets before she had finished, away from the oncoming Vruul. By the time they had reached the walls and were entering the empty forests, the demons had reached the first of the undead defenders arrayed around the Queen's court.

Rather than attack, though, they stopped, milling about nervously as they watched the zombies who stood casually by. And then, slowly, they began to fade away, separately at first, then in pairs, and finally in groups, until the last of their kind--a hulking beast with massive bat wings folded behind its back--vanished into the air.

A ragged cheer went up from the elves who'd stayed behind with their Queen, and she threw her arms around the Dyari, weeping her thanks for saving them. And the Dyari smiled at her, the first time anyone had seen him do so.

The cheering was replaced by screams as the undead soldiers turned inwards on the court, cutting down the terrified and exhausted elves, most of whom made no effort to defend themselves, quickly reaching the stunned Queen and the smiling stranger. As the Queen fell to the ground, the first of the sylphs to die was already coming to his feet, sightless eyes gazing about the ruin of the once beautiful court.

The Dyari looked around at the carnage he had brought to the Modwirs, then sat himself upon the throne, resting a moment. The last image of our city my ancestors-those elves who had fled the court before the oncoming demons--beheld as they fled into the forest was the dark elf coming to his feet and leading his undead army down the empty streets, on his way to another city to save.

-Transcribed by Mnar Akurion