The War against the Vvrael

By Heathyr Hazelwood, as part of the Elanthian Times


Barely a breathing soul walks Elanthia who hasn't heard of the Vvrael. Few, however, fully realize the immense peril facing our lands. The story of the Vvrael, and those Chosen by Lorminstra to challenge them, is long. It begins ages before our time, with an arrogant Faendryl elf named Daephron Illian.

I. Daephron Illian

Daephron Illian played a major part in concocting the sorcerous spells which ultimately defeated Despana over 20,000 years ago. He researched a sinister new brand of spells-a dark craft combining both spiritual and elemental magic. Though among the brightest and most powerful of his kind, his ambition and arrogance often led him to take precarious risks in his experiments. Regardless, his achievements remain unrivaled to this day, and he is rightfully credited as the inventor of what we now know as sorcery. If not for Illian's incredible work, Despana might have won the Undead Wars.

Though Despana's origins remain a mystery, she created the first of the Undead using ancient and twisted magic left behind by the Ur-Daemons. Seeking ultimate conquest, she unleashed her Undead minions upon the elven nations. The resulting war dragged on for generations and inflicted terrible casualties upon all the races of the lands. The lines of battle swept back and forth daily. With every victory came an equal and costly defeat. Finally, after the historic battle of ShadowGuard, the war fell into a deathly stalemate which lasted for years.

Meanwhile, Daephron continued his grueling research. He had discovered a way to pierce the veil, the mystical and elusive barrier between our world and the next. Illian, and others of his kind, struggled to master this strange new power, until at last he announced they'd discovered a means to win the war. Eager to end years of bloodshed, the six other elven houses agreed to stage an assault, trusting the House of Faendryl to live up to their promise. They did this...and more.

The resulting carnage struck fear into the hearts of all who beheld it. The Faendryls unleashed their incredible spells, summoning hordes of vile demons to wreak havoc upon the enemy. The hideous creatures from beyond the veil nearly decimated Despana's troops. The elves then sealed their victory by releasing yet another spell of awesome destructive power. They imploded Maelshyve, utterly obliterating the mighty fortress and all that dwelled within. Despana is said to have perished within the keep, but her illegitimate son, fathered by a Faendryl prisoner during the long war, somehow survived in a suspended state far beneath the surface of Rhoska-Tor. That, however, is another story.

The elven races, and all their allies, won the war. The cost was great, however, and marked the beginning of the end to an elven empire that had flourished for thousands of years. Even in light of their victory, the Faendryl elves were severely scorned for the terrible magic they had brought upon the lands. The other elven houses banished them to live beneath the wasteland of Rhoska-Tor, where Despana's keep once stood. It was there that the Faendryls began to transform, affected by the harsh underground conditions and bizarre flows of mana, into what we now recognize as dark elves.

Daephron, undaunted by his harsh exile, focused upon the unearthly magic which had indirectly caused the banishment of his people. The immense power summoned forth upon Despana's armies intrigued and inspired him. He devoted his life to researching and perfecting the manipulation of the veil, continually searching for greater and deadlier power. Illian became obsessed, and in his arrogance blundered upon an amazing, and terrifying, new force. Daephron had mistakenly unleashed the Vvrael.

From the start, it was obvious these "things" were like nothing encountered before. The Vvrael were a collective of sentient anti-mana, defying all known magic and physical laws. They seemed to thrive upon the very mana Daephron used to control them, feeding like leeches and rapidly growing in power. At first he tried to master the strange beings, recklessly weilding his spells as if to command them as he had commanded his demons. This quickly proved futile, however, and Daephron began to panic as control slipped through his fingers.

The foolhardy elf had nearly run out of time, when at last he realized he must contain the Vvrael with whatever means he could. Summoning enormous amounts of mana, Daephron cast his most powerful spell ever. In a blinding explosion of light and smoke, he trapped the Vvrael in a small modwir box, using his very life-force to seal the makeshift prison. The spell permanently bound Daephron to the box, but his sacrifice wasn't enough. The Vvrael reached out from beyond the veil with ghostly, black tendrils of pure anti-mana, closing around Illian menacingly. Knowing no other recourse, Daephron strained to summon his last ounce of mana. Raising his arms and uttering a long-forgotten chant, he ripped a hole in the fabric of space and time and flung himself through it. The hole sealed behind him, leaving Daephron trapped in time and beyond the reach of the Vvrael.

Although securely imprisoned, the Vvrael were aware of what had happened. They knew one day Daephron would reemerge from his self-inflicted exhile. For thousands upon thousands of years, the Vvrael patiently awaited his return.

II. Malaphor and the Sea-Elves

The remaining Faendryl elves continued to survive below the wastes of Rhoska-Tor for generations. The unusual mana flows found extensively within the caverns slowly transformed the elves, sharpening their features and darkening their skin. The mana foci also enabled the elves to refine their impressive talent for magic, which allowed them to survive the harsh conditions. Time had made them bitter, however, and many Faendryl turned their eyes longingly to their homelands. Whispers of war began to drift among their people. Others sought a more peaceful solution.

With hopes of reconciliation, Rythwier Faendryl XXXVII, Patriarch of House Faendryl, arranged a marriage between his eldest daughter, Chesylcha, and a crowned prince of House Ashrim. The initiative sparked a brief period of amiability between the Faendryl and the sea-elves. Wedding gifts began to pour into Ta'Ashrim, the sea-elf capitol, in preparation for the arrival of Chesylcha. Among those gifts was a small, enruned modwir box...the very box which contained the Vvrael.

The box was of remarkable beauty and craftsmanship, so it was easily mistaken for a Faendryl "puzzle-box", a popular gift of the era. The Ashrim prince entrusted the magnificent box to one of his advisors, a wizard named Malephor, who kept it safe. Malephor immediately realized there was something extraordinary about the strange box, but would have little opportunity to investigate it until much later.

The ship carrying Chesylcha to Ta'Ashrim had mysteriously disappeared at sea, enraging the Faendryl nation. Rumors of foul-play hastened the dark elves to launch a devastating but costly attack, utterly destroying the sea-elves but for one ship. Malephor and his apprentice, along with a small band of noble sea-elves, escaped on that ship. After a long and perilous voyage, they found themselves at the southern tip of a small continent, somewhere north of Teras Isle.

Though the House of Ashrim was never again heard from, the small band of survivors found a new home where they landed. They discovered an outpost town called Ruin Creek which was inhabited primarily by humans. In time, the humans accepted the elves into their society, benefiting from the magical nature and noble heritage of the Ashrim. Even so, life in Ruin Creek proved harrowing, at best. Several imposing threats bordered the small town, such as the Krolvin empire to the north, the Talkyn empire to the northwest, the trolls of Grr'Tok to the west, and even farther, the flaming spire of Cinghin'fer. Together, however, the humans and elves managed to survive and prosper, blending their races in the years that followed. Malaphor used the intervening time to toil over the mysterious box in his possession.

Using magic and means known only to Malaphor, he slowly unraveled the mystery of Daephron's box. He learned of the Vvrael, and of Daephron's existence beyond time and space. Finally, he found the means to pluck Illian from time. Combining magic of the elements and the knowledge he'd gleaned from the box, he again opened the fabric of space and pulled Daephron back into the mortal world. Amazingly, he found Illian had changed drastically. The once-mighty Faendryl was now but a small child, helpless and wholly dependent upon Malaphor for survival. Worse, the Vvrael sensed Daephron's presence at once.

Throughout the ages, the Vvrael have aspired to corrupt and twist the souls of mortals and immortals, alike. These hapless beings became pawns, controlled from beyond the veil to do the bidding of the Vvrael. The Black Knight was such a pawn, and a fearsome one at that. It didn't take long for the knight to find Malaphor and the babe Daephron.

Malaphor had taken a loyal apprentice named Tindal. When the Black Knight arrived at his workshop in Ruin Creek, Malaphor placed Illian in Tindal's arms and gated them far from immediate danger, to the small coastal town of Wehnimer's Landing. The knight attacked at once, and though the battle was long and harrowing, Malaphor eventually fell. Having slain the old wizard, the Black Knight retrieved the modwir box and set out in search of Daephron.

There is a time discrepancy which is difficult to account for in these events, since Tindal arrived in the Landing in our generation. It may be that Malaphor used some ancient, lost magic of the sea-elves to prolong his life, or perhaps when he gated Tindal and Illian through space he also thrust them through time, as well. Whatever the case, Daephron and the Box were thus brought into our own era, and our modern saga with the Vvrael began.

III. The Babe, the Box, and the Key

It is unclear what became of Tindal. Malaphor later suggested that his old apprentice had returned to Ruin Creek after delivering the babe discreetly to our people of Wehnimer's Landing. Others believe Tindal was murdered by the Black Knight as Malaphor had been, and only his ghost now remains. Regardless, when the child Illian arrived in our lands, a healer became aware of his presence through alarming visions of the babe's grave danger. The child was promptly found, alone. Daephron's rescuers cared for him well, but none of the kind people involved could have foreseen the incredible legacy about to unfold. It was then that the ghost of Malaphor appeared.

Malaphor revealed three words of utmost importance, urging all to remember them well: The babe, the box, and the key. Naturally, nobody then understood the full meaning of Malaphor's words, but there was scant little time for contemplation. The Black Knight arrived, guided by the Vvrael, to claim Daephron and reopen the box which had contained them for thousands of years.

The knight battled fiercely, taking many lives, but was eventually defeated. The box, found on the knight's body, was given to its only rightful owner...the babe of Daephron Illian. As Daephron lightly traced the runes and wardings with his fingertips, the mighty spell that bonded the elf to the box slowly unraveled, and to everyone's astonishment the child rapidly began to age. He told much of his fantastic story to those gathered before him, until, so old had he become, he collapsed to the ground and died.

Though nobody then realized the elven body lying before them had been Daephron Illian, nor understood the significance of all that had transpired, one thing was certain. The strange box, Illian's only remaining legacy, must be protected. Our people hid the box carefully, and to this day only a handful of souls knows its whereabouts. Unfortunately, the box would prove to be of dubious consequence, since nobody yet knew of the insidious rift in the veil which the Vvrael struggled to wedge ever wider.

IV. The Keeper of the Key

I knew nothing of Daephron Illian, nor the Vvrael, the day I tried to end my life. All I knew was heartache and pain. I had been away from Wehnimer's Landing for a time, visiting my dying uncle, Dreyvarr.

My past had been very troubled. There was a power in me I never understood, yet one conspicuously absent from my sister, Julietra, and all of my other known family members. It took years to harness the mana in my veins, even aided by my uncle, and tutor, Dreyvarr. My childhood was shrouded by secrets, yet my uncle refused to tell me my true history. Finally, with his dying words, he revealed the last, terrible secret of my ancestry. Though I will not share this family secret, I will tell you it greatly disturbed me. Upon returning to the Landing, the news that confronted me there was simply more than I could take.

My beloved fiance, I was told, had died. I was led to believe he killed himself in a passionate fit of guilt, for while I'd been away he had taken another lover. My heart shattered. The loss of my uncle, the dark secret of my past, and the death and betrayal of my one true love, pushed me over the edge.

Long ago, when I was young and eager for power, I made a terrible promise: I relinquished the ownership of my soul to a dark and seductive force. Now, so great was my sorrow, I sought to settle that old debt and surrender myself to the darkness forever. Casting a deadly spell, I turned my magic upon myself to take my own life. To my astonishment, death would not find me that day.

A whispered voice, of such gentleness and compassion I'd never before heard, fell upon my very soul. It said simply, "Your time has not yet come, my child." Shocked, I remained still for a long moment. Eventually my surprise turned to indignation, and I pleaded the mysterious voice to allow my fate to pass. Some uncanny force, however, held my spirit firmly within the confines of the living. It soon dawned on me that my unwelcome savior was Lorminstra, herself...the Keeper of the Key to the Gate of Death.

Utterly thwarted from my efforts to take my life, I remained despondent; I truly had sought an end to my existence. Something the Goddess told me sparked a light of hope, however. She said my soul was not lost. Though still heavy with despair, my mind raced upon hearing this. Perhaps there may yet be reason to carry on, I thought. I acquired a sense of mission which drove me, guided by Lorminstra's infinite wisdom. She watched, almost curiously it seemed, as I began a battle like none I'd ever fought. This battle raged inside of me, fueled by her words, "Search deep within yourself, only there may you find the answer."

I travelled long that day, visiting many places and people. I even sought counsel from a dear old friend who lived beneath the Black Sands. Blind, and often crotchety, the lone hermit was also kind and wise. He told me, as Lorminstra had, to seek the answers within.

My soul-searching eventually led me deep beneath the surface of the earth, into the Valley of Shadows. I sat long upon a narrow, darkened ledge, comtemplating my plight. My inner-turmoil sparked an ember which began to glow in my heart, and my spirit gradually drifted back to within my grasp. I had nearly reached a monumental decision; to renounce my old, darkened ways, and embrace a more noble purpose. I couldn't have known Lorminstra's hopes and plans for me...but another, far more sinister power, did.

Unbeknownst to me in my moment of weakness, the battle which waged within me had become the focal point for a struggle between good and evil. Lorminstra once told me, "Sometimes the soul of one may become the battlefield for many." I could not have known, nor understood, the truth to her words. The Vvrael, hungrily drawn to my turbulent soul, summoned a wight-witch to devour it. They actually seemed to sense my destiny, and hoped to destroy me before I could fulfill it.

The wight-witch proved to be a powerful foe. I struggled to defend myself, but the witch bested me with sorcerous magic similar to my own. Many died trying to rescue me from her clutches as she dragged me about. Though my rescuers didn't understand the battle, they fought valiantly. Finally, two sorcerers managed to defeat the witch, and my lifeless corpse was taken before the gates of Voln to be raised by the priests and priestesses there.

By Lorminstra's grace I lived again, raised from the dead. It was then that a young lass of incredible beauty appeared before all assembled there. It took mere moments for me to determine the lass was Lorminstra, in physical form. Smiling gently, she asked if I had completed my search. I replied that I had. The events that transpired then both frightened and amazed me. I renounced my old ways and pledged my fealty to the goddess Lorminstra, finding a renewed sense of purpose while upholding her work through the ways of Voln.

With that, the goddess raised her arms to the heavens, an intense, warm aura flaring between her grasp. When she again turned to me, she held a magnificent shield, offering it to my trembling hands. She explained the shield bore her symbol, a shimmering gold skeleton key upon a field of black. I was to carry the shield in her name, to help protect me from forces that would undoubtedly seek my destruction. I didn't understand what she meant...until the vision came.

Suddenly, as if transported through time and space, I found myself standing at the brink of a great abyss, twelve others by my side, facing the most unspeakable terror I had ever beheld...the Vvrael. I cannot explain what it, or they...looked like...for I'm not certain if I saw them with my eyes, or my very soul. Whatever the case, the image frightened me as nothing before, and I seriously began to doubt the wisdom of my choice. Still...the burning in my heart, and the freedom I felt so deep within...made the fear seem petty by comparison. When my vision cleared, I turned again to face my goddess. Seeing the questions within me, she began to explain more.

Lorminstra told us of the Vvrael, and their imminent threat. She spoke of the veil, telling how she, along with many of the other Arkati, currently held a tear in the veil closed against the Vvrael. It became clear this battle involved more than just the Lords of Liabo, also encompassing the Lords of Lornan and their followers. The Vvrael are friends to no one, mortal or otherwise. They seek only to consume, to devour all life as we know it so they may grow and thrive. Even Luukos cannot abide such wanton gluttony upon souls he would lay claim to.

In order to eventually defeat the Vvrael, banishing them forever from our world, Lorminstra formulated a plan. She would select thirteen worthy people to face the Vvrael and force them from our lands. Nobody knew how this could be accomplished, nor what the Chosen must do to prepare. We only knew the grim consequences for failure...eternal death for all.

Lorminstra then granted her vision to two others who stood among the masses: Lord Krackenstar, a legendary bard, and Lord Writher, a sorcerer. She urged us to band together and seek the other Chosen as they were selected. The coming battle would know no boundaries; In this fight, all truly would be united, regardless of race, profession, or allegiance.

V. The Chosen Ones

A matter of days passed before the three Chosen received another vision. A fourth had been selected. We didn't know how to locate the new Chosen One, except that he was of the purest elven blood. Lorminstra beckoned us to find him quickly and keep him safe. Even as we searched, the Vvrael also scoured the lands for the Chosen Ones, often wreaking chaos and death with terrible undead forces they managed to control from beyond. Our progress was hampered considerably in the face of these brutal attacks. This continued for several days, until at last we learned the tragic news.

The Fourth Chosen had fallen to the Vvrael. We had never even identified him. News of his loss first reached us through Lorminstra, and later by the tauntings of the cursed Vvrael. This was more than just a setback. The loss of our unknown comrade would haunt our mission for months to come. I still feel responsible for the failure, and for the horrible fate of the Fourth Chosen.

The constant attacks by the Vvrael compounded our frustration, and many times it seemed one of us would break. Their torturous assaults worsened with every strike. The battles always took heavy casualties, often claiming the lives of even the most legendary of our heroes. If any good came from this time period, it was in what little we managed to learn of our opponent.

We had never seen the Vvrael, only their minions. Daephron Illian may well be the only mortal to have ever laid eyes upon the true face of the Vvrael, and he paid the ultimate price for that folly. The Vvrael, as Illian learned, are comprised of some form of sentient anti-mana. They number in the thousands, but act as one. They feed upon the mana of our world, not to mention our very souls; They thrive on our life-energy. It is unclear whether their power has actually increased over time, or simply found greater impetus with the widening of the rift in the veil. Either way, the resulting danger has grown proportionately since they first appeared in our time period. The Vvrael are said to "ride on the wind", and live in the shadows. Though somewhat inaccurate, these phrases do apply as we perceive the Vvrael in our world. Their reach seems limitless, and no place is safe from their grasp.

Since the time Lorminstra first spoke of the Vvrael and selected her first three Chosen, the lands have fallen under a great shadow. Countless lives have been lost to the Vvrael's attacks. Throughout these dark times, a brief shimmer of hope has occasionally risen as new Chosen Ones have been revealed. Unfortunately, every beacon of light on the horizon has been accompanied by a raging storm of darkness.

VI. Terror in Tamzyrr

There have been fleeting moments of relative peace in our lands since the modern struggle with the Vvrael commenced. Some theorize that the Vvrael's power cycles with the seasons; others suggest they simply bide their time, allowing their formidable power to nurture. In any case, it was during one such quiet period I received a desperate plea for help.

The message came from the imperial city of Tamzyrr, the capitol of the human empire ruled by the dreaded empress, Mynal'lyanna. It is well known that the empire's policies and laws cast cold prejudice upon most non-human races, particularly elves. What may not be as widely recognized is the extensive underground network of those beleaguered races. The purpose of most such illegal and shadowy organizations is not upheaval or revolt, but simply the survival and well-being of their families.

Since first arriving in Wehnimer's Landing many years ago, I've been aware of the elven underground movement in Tamzyrr. From time to time I have lent a hand with various things I was capable of, such as donating silvers, helping supply much needed food and clothing, etc. On rare occasion, I have even aided my underground contacts with magical devices and spells. This time, however, my calling was far more serious.

The Empress had cracked down on the underground societies, aware of their existence. The price paid by the elven movement was the worst. They had been forced deeper into hiding, and desperately needed food and supplies. The movement included several noble warriors and mages, but required a more subtle and sinister craft for certain missions. They needed sorcery. With little time to spare, I packed a few meager belongings and set off for the imperial city.

Arriving in Tamzyrr, I found their problems far worse than I'd expected. The elven underground, barely able to feed their families and keep them clothed, had fragmented. My first task, therefore, was to bring leadership to the movement. Although initially regarded suspiciously because of my Sylvan appearance (often those under the weight of prejudice become slow to place trust in others), I gradually won them over, and soon had organized several missions to aid their people. Most of these missions were peaceful, if less than legal. On occasion, however, a raid for much needed provisions was crucial, and sometimes it was necessary to shed imperial blood. Such raids often carried great danger. Unknown to any of us, however, that danger multiplied ten-fold when a spy entered our numbers.

The Vvrael, noticing my absence from the Landing, sent an insidious spy to track me down, much as they had sent the Black Knight in search of Daephron Illion. This minion traced me to the elven underground and infiltrated our members. I can only guess who the spy may have been, but I have often wondered if the Vvrael used the Fourth Chosen for this task. I doubt I will ever know for sure. I can, however, pinpoint the approximate time the spy began to tamper in our affairs, for suddenly most of our missions began to fail miserably.

Suspicions started to arise, and my followers began to turn on one another...and on me. Raid after raid, we were thwarted by imperial troops. I knew there must have been a clever agent in our midst, but failed to pinpoint him. The issue became moot, however, as my next raid would be my last.

The mission was risky, but crucial. We had learned of an imperial caravan arriving in the city carrying arms and armor, much needed by the movement. I realized the lead may have been a trap designed by our resident spy. With this in mind, I filtered the information carefully, and planned our raid in a way which would reveal the identify of the traitor. My only mistake was underestimating the severity of the trap. This time, my misjudgment would cost lives.

When I launched the ambush, we discovered not the typical imperial garrison we'd expected...but a deadly contingent of Mynal'lyanna's best spell-casters. We never had a chance. My party was decimated, but for one warrior left for dead. I was rendered unconscious and easily captured. The troops locked me deep in the dungeons beneath the palace, where I would remain for the duration of my stay in Tamzyrr.

It always befuddled me why I was never questioned. Perhaps the empress already had the information she needed, or maybe she felt the underground had been crushed with my capture, alone. I knew better. Though fragmented and under great duress, the elven underground would not crumble so easily; I felt confident of that. Soon, though, the empress would be the last of my worries. The Vvrael arrived.

I first became aware of their presence by the cold, bitter wind that seemed to swirl endlessly through my cramped cell. The voices drifted upon the wind...thousands of them, maddeningly discordant. They taunted and tormented me endlessly, and gradually my power seeped away with the chilling wind. Days became weeks, weeks became months. The terrible, wicked voices saturated my being, cackling with glee as they slowly sucked the very life from me. Chained painfully in my prison, I was utterly helpless against them. Even the imperial guards, frightened by the bizarre haunting of my cell, stayed clear of the dungeon. With no food and only a trickling of filthy water to sustain myself, madness crept into my heart. Death stalked ever nearer.

Meanwhile, back in the Landing, the Vvrael had picked up their assaults. They had fed upon my life-force and turned that energy back upon our people. So confident of my defeat were they, they sent a chilling vision to many of those noble hearts who fought against them. The vision depicted me, my eyes soulless and empty, leading a fearsome undead army against my people. That terrible image haunts many to this day, for its potential to become reality has not been fully dismissed. It seemed only a miracle could again bring hope to the masses.

A miracle did, indeed, occur. One night in my cell, I gradually became aware of something I'd not experienced in a long while....silence. Though battered and near death, I painfully opened my clouded eyes. As my sight slowly focused, a tiny beam of light hovered miraculously before me. It emanated from a small hole--the burrow of a mole, perhaps--and shined impossibly through my cell with a brilliant, sparkling aura. Untrusting of my own eyes, I reached out with a trembling hand to touch it. As my fingertips pierced the beam, a tremendous surge of power coursed through my body. I immediately collapsed, overcome by the sudden flow of mana and nearly falling unconscious. The energy from the shimmering beam began to strengthen me, however, healing my body and filling me with power. It took quite some time to fully recover, but after awhile, with my cell unguarded and my magic returned, I easily escaped my would-be grave. Not all was well, however.

Once free from the palace and hidden in the alleyways of Tamzyrr, it dawned on me I knew not how I had come to be there, nor why. I couldn't even remember my own identity; my memory had been completely blocked out. Whether this was a side-effect from the strange light which enabled my escape, or the lingering trauma from the Vvrael's brutal torment, I may never be certain. In any case, I found myself utterly lost and confused.

The underground had recovered somewhat during my long imprisonment, and it didn't take long for news of my escape to reach them. Most of my previous followers had turned their backs on me; the movement no longer trusted me due to my long imprisonment and their lingering doubts about the identify of the spy. One courageous elf still held faith in me, however, and sought me out. She guided me to safety, returning many of my previous belongings which had been recovered from the palace. My friend, although knowing nothing of the Vvrael or my life before coming to Tamzyrr, suggested I go home to Wehnimer's Landing where I'd be safer. Hoping to find answers there, I left at once.

The remaining story, as one might imagine, is filled with troubled moments, deep confusion, and much struggle. It also contains brighter points such as happy reunions, and glimmers of hope as my memory slowly returned. I eventually recovered completely, but it took a very long time and involved some precarious moments. I won't go into that story now, but when I finally remembered my mission, and my obligation to face the Vvrael...I was less than overjoyed.

VII. Theft of a Soul

Many months had passed since Lorminstra first revealed her plan to our people, and even more since the word "Vvrael" had first been uttered in our time. The blanket of fear and despair covering Elanthia grew heavy, even as more Chosen were revealed. The Arkati struggled to hold the thin barrier keeping the Vvrael from flooding our lands, thus showing themselves rarely to their subjects. Those foolish enough to commune to the gods for guidance were often met with terrible disasters, as darker powers intervened. The Vvrael seemed to become smug with their stranglehold on our lands. Long periods of eerie calm were often pierced by sudden, exasperating assaults from the shadows. The spirits of our people sank ever lower.

The Vvrael had not entirely finished with me, either. When my memory had been blank, for some reason the Vvrael could not find me. I've wondered, at times, if this wasn't some kind of protection granted by the strange force which allowed my escape from Tamzyrr. Whatever the case, when my memory returned, so did the attention of the Vvrael. One night, while sitting quietly in my home of House Sylvanfair, a hideously familiar wind brushed across my face. The countless terrors I'd experienced while imprisoned raced back to me as the all-too familiar voices whispered on the wind, "We've come for you."

A swirling vortex descended upon me, striking me violently with a force I can only define as anti-mana. Perhaps a small blessing graced me that day, for I was not alone when they struck. A faithful friend and brave warrior, Lady Kiora, also fell victim to the Vvrael's vortex, but not before I managed to send a desperate plea for help by the grace of Tonis, Messenger of the Gods.

Many noble hearts answered my call, but moments too late. The swirling vortex consumed me, sweeping me into its unearthly core. Inside, the voices...the terrible, maddening voices...wracked through my soul. Powerless against them in their own realm, they violated me in a most hideous and terrible way. They ripped my soul from me, spewing my lifeless corpse back out into the world like the pit of a plum. The vortex was destroyed, though I suspect only because the Vvrael allowed it. Regardless, the victory belonged to them; they now possessed the soul of the First Chosen.

If the Vvrael had been smug before, their intolerable arrogance doubled after that. To this day I have not retrieved what they took from me. I am not certain I ever will. Over time, I have learned to behave somewhat normally for the comfort of those around me, but the gaping emptiness within me is worse than any pain, any torture, I could ever imagine. Still, I am sometimes surprised by sudden, brief flashes of feeling and emotion. It truly makes me wonder if the Vvrael's victory was as complete as they seem to believe. Only time will tell.

VIII. Lorminstra's Return

Nobody is quite sure if the goddess was away, had her full attention upon holding the barrier, or simply had nothing to say...but for a long time Lorminstra remained silent. Many a day I spent quietly praying in her temple, hoping upon hope for the slightest indication she could still hear my voice. Months passed without a single word or sign...until the day Lady Lylia nearly suffered the same fate as I.

A vortex, similar to the one the Vvrael had used to steal my soul, descended upon Lylia, a powerful and legendary sorceress. Though strong with mana, she proved helpless to defend herself. Once inside the vortex, however, a strange miracle occurred. Lorminstra used the Vvrael's own portal to speak to Lylia, protecting the sorceress from the wretched grasp of the Vvrael. The goddess told her the first encouraging words we'd heard in a very long time.

Lorminstra spoke of an undiscovered place, far to the North. She said the key to defeating the Vvrael might lie in this place, and the Chosen would soon be called to journey there. Unable to hold back the Vvrael for long, she could tell us no more except to wait for a sign. Then the Vvrael's power flared, ejecting Lady Lylia from the vortex a lifeless lump of flesh...but with her soul intact. Much speculation came from the encounter, but one thing became apparent...there was hope.

IX. The Fourth Chosen

When our people learned of the terrible fate which befell the Fourth Chosen, many a heart sank in despair. The questions lingered on: Who was he? How did the Vvrael take him? Would he ever return? At least some of those questions were answered when one known as Terate appeared in our lands. At first he seemed rather harmless. It didn't take long, however, before the name Terate came to be spoken with fearful dread.

I'm uncertain who first encountered Terate, but initially he appeared to be quite young, perhaps in his twenties, and of pure elven blood. He was later seen as an ancient elven sorcerer, no younger than three-hundred and fifty years old. A few people even experienced visions centering around the bizarre elf, showing him to be brilliant, young...and possessed by the Vvrael. Lorminstra later confirmed what many had come to suspect. The Fourth Chosen had returned.

Terate was overcome by the Vvrael and twisted into a minion of incredible power. The Vvrael have tried to use him to turn the remaining Chosen, as well as others, without success. Though only a shadow of his former self, I believe some part of Terate longs to return to the living. The Vvrael's control over him is strong, but there may still be hope. If he had the means, he might eagerly turn from the Vvrael and take his place as the Fourth Chosen. Until then, however, Terate remains a fearsome adversary.

The full extent of his awesome power first revealed itself upon Teras Isle. Driven mad by the Vvrael, and frustrated by his inability to possess the other Chosen, he murdered every last soul on the island, save one. If not for the merciful intervention of Lorminstra, all of his victims would surely have perished.

X. The Six Stones of Virtue

Lady Lorminstra, recognizing the dire need of so many of her children, again set foot upon our lands in the form of a beautiful young lass. Sadly viewing the carnage left in Terate's wake, she brought life where there was death, gracing many a noble heart with her gentle, life-giving touch. After some degree of order had been returned to the Isle, she used that moment to summon several of her Chosen to her. When the goddess had gathered the few able to be found, she spun a wondrous and ancient tale.

Ages upon ages ago, the most powerful beings ever to roam the lands, the great Drakes, flourished under the rule of one, beloved leader. This, the mightiest Drake ever, lived upon the Top of the World, a mountain far, far to the North known as Aenatumgana. There he ruled all life with a steady and fair hand, able to watch his faithful subjects from his glorious perch atop the world. Though tolerant and just, even this mightiest of Drakes cared little for the weak, primitive races that were our own ancestors. Because he cared for his loyal servants, the Arkati, he and the other Drakes permitted the lesser races to exist. This tolerance earned even greater loyalty and admiration from their humble servants who had grown fond of the lesser races. One Arkati, in particular, revered the great leader more than any other.

This leader knew well of the lands beyond the veil. He had even journeyed there, learning much from his travels. When the terrible Ur-Daemon wars came, it was he who led the final charge against their hordes, sending them back from whence they came. The war had taken a grave toll on the Drakes, however, and their leader suffered terrible wounds from the final battle. With their once-great empire in ruins, the Drakes gradually disappeared from the lands. The ultimate fate of the mightiest Drake remains a mystery. Some claim he still lives, while others say he has long since passed from this world. In any case, only their servants remained to heal the scarred lands. The Arkati literally inherited the world.

The Great Drake was not quickly forgotten. The Arkati, led by the one who most loved their lost leader, erected a magnificent shrine in his honor. They built it atop Aenatumgana, the very place he once ruled from; the Top of the World. There it stood for ages, protected by immense storms and strange, powerful mana flows. To this day, it remains untouched by time. No mortal has ever laid eyes upon its walls, nor set foot upon its floors. The Arkati, themselves, have become unable to approach the shrine, perhaps due to the overwhelming power surrounding it. The impressive shrine stands upon the beating heart of the lands, where all magic flows. It is believed incredible and ancient secrets lurk deep within its walls.

Upon completing her story, Lorminstra turned to her Chosen. She explained that our only hope of defeating the Vvrael and sealing the rift in the veil may rest within the great shrine. Our window of opportunity would come in a cycle of days and one, she said, for at that time the tremendous storms which had blanketed the shrine for ages would subside. She warned that only the pure of heart and strong of will would have any hope of entering, and even then would require some very special artifacts: The Six Stones of Virtue. The goddess grew distant, since maintaining her vigilant hold upon the barrier drained her energy, but her parting words still ring deep in our hearts. We must find the Stones.

Originally, Lorminstra had selected a guide for the journey to the shrine; a sturdy halfling named Ardo. She feared, however, he had been murdered by Terate before he could complete his task. Of the stones themselves, little else was known at the time. They were said to be scattered about the lands, and the only mortals able to touch them would be those Chosen by the goddess. Meanwhile, our nemesis, Terate, searched for the same six stones, in hopes of claiming whatever prize awaited in the Shrine of the Great Drake. If he managed to breach the shrine's walls before the Chosen, very little hope would remain of ever defeating the Vvrael.

XI. Anwyn Castle and the Olbin Pass

A day which will live forever in the minds of our people brought new hope. Terate appeared in our lands once more, seeking the Stones. He brought terror to the peaceful town of River's Rest, killing many with his unearthly power. Then, a startling thing occurred. Terate softened upon finding a sorceress, Lady Rayyne, who he took a fancy to. Some of the old Terate showed through, and he eventually informed the sorceress that one of the Stones may be hidden in a great castle, deep among the Lyserian Hills. A monumental search ensued. Large bands of adventurers, including no fewer than five of the Chosen Ones, scoured the lands for this unknown keep in the forests.

They found Anwyn Castle, and discovered a mysterious, pentagram-lined chamber, hidden deep below its walls. There, before a strangely mystical mirror, they uncovered an ancient carved chest. It took several skilled locksmiths--and a few deaths--to eventually open the chest. Finally, however, a talented locksmith named Lord Xanith worked the lock free and lifted the chest open. All gathered around with hushed voices to peer at the contents of the ancient container. One of the Six Stones of Virtue had been found. Lady Tedra, a Chosen One, immediately recovered and stored the beautiful, magical stone.

Meanwhile, North of Icemule Trace, another incredible epic had begun. The furious storms protecting the mountains to the North began to subside, just as Lorminstra had promised. When the weather cleared, bands of brave explorers set out for the perilous trek up into the dangerous mountains. Hordes of ice giants and hounds plagued the parties on their quest, but undaunted they continued to climb higher and higher. Along the trail, they uncovered a gruesome scene. An ice cave was discovered, inside of which remained the bodies of seven halfling mountaineers. One of the bodies was identified as Ardo, the hearty explorer Lorminstra had picked to lead the Chosen northward. His fate was unclear, but his last thoughts were of his wife, Belle...for he held in his frozen, lifeless hand an emerald falcon pin which was to be a gift for his love. The rest of his party seemed to have suffered some horrible fate, for they had been brutally dismembered and their expressions reflected sheer terror.

The mystery of Ardo's death, and that of his companions, has not yet been solved. The explorers who found his body, however, also discovered something even more remarkable. Searching through a pile of ashes in a makeshift fireplace, they uncovered another Stone of Virtue. Lady Merry, one of the most recent Chosen, plucked the Stone from the ashes and secured it. Two Stones found, the explorers continued their journey up the great slopes. Eventually, our people reached an impasse. Perched atop the peaks of Olbin Pass and overlooking the remarkable frozen landscape below, they found themselves unable to venture farther North. Our quest seemed to grind to a halt.

XII. Fryzz and Marilyna

The Chosen, and many noble adventures young and old alike, scoured the lands tirelessly for the remaining Stones of Virtue. From the deepest valley to the highest peak, our people searched every nook and cranny for the ancient artifacts promised to bring hope to the coming conflict. For several days the search remained fruitless, and our spirits gradually sank. Then, miraculously, the voice of Lorminstra whispered across all the lands. Fryzz, a youthful and hearty dwarf, had unwittingly found a Stone of Virtue.

It seems young Fryzz had been hunting in the hills of Upper Trollfang, when he chanced upon a titan. Not an uncommon foe in those parts, Fryzz entered into battle and slew the gigantic beast, finding an innocent-looking locked coffer in the loot. He took the container to a locksmith in town who worked the lock free. When at last Fryzz opened it, he found a most unusual, dull gray stone. Curiously, he reached out to touch it, when he was startled by an incredible, heavenly flash of insight. This was one of the six ancient Stones of Virtue.

The awestruck dwarf immediately found himself flooded with attention, as hordes of people gathered about him to behold his miraculous find. Lord Merlock, a legendary wizard and long-time supporter and guardian of the Chosen, rushed to Fryzz and guided him to safety. Merlock then explained the significance of the stone, and warned him of the dangers of the Vvrael. Fryzz decided to go into hiding until the stone could be safely given to one of Lorminstra's Chosen.

I had been asleep in my quarters in House Sylvanfair during this time. When I awoke, I found a hastily scrawled message under my door describing Fryzz's experience. In a panic, I rushed out to find him, but the dwarf was nowhere to be found. I waited. Hours passed, and I again drifted off to sleep, nestled in Hearthstone Manor. I awoke, startled, to an image of thought which flitted briefly through my head. Fryzz had emerged, and the Vvrael had found him.

Using my magic, I summoned an image of Fryzz's location and raced to meet him. Just as I arrived, I gasped in horror as black, ominous tendrils of anti-mana flicked around the young dwarf hungrily. Thanks to Merlock's guidance, Fryzz recognized me, and hastily thrust the container with the stone into my hands. With not a moment to spare, I plucked the ancient artifact from the coffer, even as the Vvrael struck down those around me. The instant my flesh touched the stone, its power coursed through my body, and Lorminstra's voice again whispered through the lands. The third Stone of Virtue was at last safe. The Vvrael taunted and threatened, but realizing they'd lost the battle soon vanished back into their ethereal shadows.

Later the same evening, Lorminstra's voice once again touched the lands. This time, a youthful dark elven sorceress named Marilyna had uncovered a Stone of Virtue in the quiet town of River's Rest. The Vvrael had learned well from their earlier mistake, however, and eagerly began lashing out at the townspeople. Many died in the aftermath. Three of the Chosen were near enough to rush to the portal for River's Rest, but the death toll quickened, and Marilyna was in grave danger. Showing tremendous courage and will, the young sorceress stood her ground, anxiously awaiting the arrival of any of the thirteen Chosen.

I happened to arrive first on the scene. Though I had little time to notice, the carnage around me sent chills up my spine. The Vvrael had made their presence known with terrifying certainty. Just as Marilyna reached out to hand me the coffer containing the Stone, the Vvrael ripped my body apart with a wave of anti-mana, and my lifeless corpse dropped to the earth. Cries of panic emerged, and yet more casualties fell beside me.

My ghostly spirit rose above my body, and though disoriented and detached, I sensed myself being drawn back. One of several holy priests at the location channeled the power of gods towards me, bringing breath to my lips. The Vvrael would not be thwarted so easily this time, however. They struck me down once more, vaporizing my form and leaving only my ghostly voice upon the wind.

This time, another honorable guardian of the Chosen, Lord Truekillr, summoned the power of his deity and whisked Marilyna, my lifeless body, and others into a magical and holy sanctuary. Truekillr, a priest of Lorminstra, again resurrected my form. With only a brief window of opportunity, the brave young elf handed me the coffer containing the fourth Stone of Virtue. Without hesitation, I plucked the stone from the box and secured it with the other. Unlike before, there would be no time for rejoicing. Observing their second failure, the Vvrael angrily obliterated everyone within the sanctuary, proving once more the limitlessness of their wretched grasp.

Gradually, the attacks tapered off. The day was won, but at a horrible cost in lives. Soon after I was brought back from the gates of death a third time, two of the other Chosen, Lady Tedra and Lady Nyte, arrived at the grisly scene. I handed one of the Stones to Nyte, in order to separate them and keep them safe. Four stones found, the remaining survivors began to discuss what to do next. It seems Lord Jala, another of the Chosen, had experienced some visions involving a bridge in a small hamlet. Entertaining the possibility there may yet be another stone around River's Rest, we set out to search the nearby citadel.

We found no trace of another stone, but we did encounter something far more surprising. Inside the citadel, the ghost of Malaphor appeared. He explained Lorminstra had allowed him to return once more, so he might divulge more information to us. Much of his story has been told in this writing, but he also offered some important warnings. Malaphor told us there are others like Terate beyond the veil. Witches and warlocks, imbued with the black anti-mana of the Vvrael, patiently await their opportunity to slip into our lands. The rift is ever-widening, and the Vvrael will soon break free. The Chosen must seal that rift. The two remaining Stones must be found.

Later, as I walked through the woods towards my home in the Landing, a tiny, colorful bird flitted down to me and perched upon my shoulder. A slight smile almost crossed my lips, until I was startled by a tiny voice which squeaked softly in my ear. The voice said only this: "Be very, very afraid." Before I could react, the creature fluttered away into the darkened forests and was gone.

XIII. The Time of the Opening (Epilogue)

Lorminstra warned that the barrier holding the Vvrael would soon collapse, and the ultimate demise of our lands would ensue. The fate awaiting each and every one of us, should that happen, defies imagination. Life would cease, replaced with horrible, eternal living-death. This unthinkable future can not be allowed to unfold upon our lands. It is for this reason that the Chosen toil. The goddess has spoken ominously of a sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, which may be asked of the Chosen. We embrace this possibility willingly, for the consequences to all life, should we fail, far outweigh the humble lives of a mere thirteen chosen few.

Remember well the names of the Chosen: Krackenstar, Writher, Jala, Berr, Risper, Mithadris, Tedra, Wanton, Nyte, Merry, and Beldin. Should never again our faces be seen after the final conflict, we ask only that you remember us fondly, and keep our spirits alive within your hearts. Know that Lorminstra's hand touches all, no matter what race, religion, or allegiance. We are, when all is said and done, One People. We are the benefactors of this magnificent world, just as the Arkati once inherited it from their predecessors, the Drakes. Make our home beautiful and just. Strive for peace among our people, and let the flames of honor and friendship burn strong within you. Never has a mightier weapon been held than the hand of another. Let this, the final battle in a War of All Ages, serve as a harsh reminder to those who would wage war; there will always be a greater army, a more merciless foe, a more certain fate...and only united will ever our people, all our people, one day inherit the wondrous land we call Elanthia.