A night without any undead presence is an unexpected and welcome relief; it seems as though even the lich kings want no part in the events which just occurred. Hidden deep in the forest, the survivors of the assault on the temple make camp. Only nineteen people escaped the battle, two being Kesher and Corcus, the rest being Lost Light and orphans.
Victobar sits somberly, staring out over the countryside for a long time. After a while, Torrick joins him. As a good friend and well-versed speaker, he seems to know the appropriate words to apply at the perfect times. After talking with Tor for a short while, Vic stares again for a few minutes, and then seems to make up his mind. He cautiously approaches Kesher, who somehow manages to look both lost in meditation and openly engaged to Vic’s presence. “Sir, may I ask you a few questions?”
As still as possible, staring ahead at the lands beyond the water, Kesher says, “You are always welcome to ask questions.”
Vic sits next to Kesher. Unsure of where to begin, he hesitantly says, “My mother used to speak of an ancient line of kings and a large empire that, as she recalls, spanned the world over. You have been around for a long time, even before the Cataclysm, haven’t you? Do you remember what the world was like? Do you remember the old gods?”
Kesher turns his head to look at Vic. “That, my child, is not a question I was expecting to be asked. The Old World is not spoken of much these days.” He pauses, looking back out to the sea, his face bathed in the warm glow of the fire. "I do remember the world before the Cataclysm. Such a thing is hard to forget when it is something you desperately wish to return. Before my time in the temple, I was a pilgrim for the goddess Avandra. She was the goddess of change, of freedom and travel. I walked across every land in Khalin, traveled to every city, met with every noble and every beggar. I was young, an initiate back then, with only the vague memories of my past life to guide me. But soon I became something more.
“I remember the old gods well. Some were kind, others unkind. Some were a force for justice and good, like Avandra and Pelor; others dwelled within the deepest pits of hell, plotting against the multiverse. Still others walked a neutral path, like the elven god Corellon Larethian, siding with no one, yet followed by thousands. Avandra chose me to be her pilgrim, and I walked the path for her, but in those days worship was given to many gods.
“The world itself was … turbulent. Life is always turbulent. I would say it was peaceful but it never was, it simply seems more peaceful than this age.” He pauses, noticing Vic’s confusion at the term. "Theologians back then described their time as the Third Age, when the gods removed themselves from our world to take up residence in the Astral Sea. The races each responded to this differently — some thought that the gods had forsaken them, while others believed the gods could not live to their fullest in the view of mortals. This, the world after the Cataclysm, is the Fourth Age, I would suppose, though I’ve met no scholar who even speaks of the ages before the Cataclysm.
“As for empires, well … there were many grand empires and republics at that time, but none was grander than the human empire of Shavar Tol. It encompassed the entirety of Nevelen and most of the northern part of Septech, representing both the human’s resourcefulness and their thirst for power. I was lucky to be reborn shortly before the Shavari came to power, and watched as their empire rose to new heights. The Shavari were once desert traders living in what we now call the Kartukst peninsula (in southern Nevelen). They lived a meager but satisfying life until Akir Shavar was born. Akir’s parents, Torin and Esmerel, were from two warring tribes, the biggest Shavari tribes, and had fallen in love in the midst of battle. Their marriage formed the Union, a partnership created to eliminate the civil wars brewing between the Shavari. Their future now lay in the hands of their First Emperor, Akir.
“Akir officially became emperor at the age of fifteen, in the year 3519 of the Third Age. I believe I was 56 when his ceremonial sword was given to him, and I just happened to be in Kartukst during this ceremony. The Shavari were good friends of the deva, for reasons I never quite understood. I was welcomed into his palace with open arms, and I knew, from the glint in his young eye, that this was the beginning of something big.
“For the next twenty years, Akir built the Shavari Empire (which is the literal translation of “Shavar Tol”) into the stuff of legend. His conquest was through diplomacy and tactics, knowledge and humility, and soon Nevelen was his backyard. But, as with all power, it came with greed, and once Nevelen was his, Akir was determined for more. His ships sailed west to Abaerd, where they were met with strong draconic resistance. Apparently his tacticians either did not tell him about the dragonborn armies, or wished to teach him a lesson. Regardless, the lesson did not stick, and Akir doubled his forces in conquest of Septech. He landed in the Irsun, far from any tiefling or halfling cities, and quickly set up camp. Within five years, the northern half of the continent would be his."
A lull in Kesher’s narrative made Vic think it might be over. “What then?” he asked. “Was Akir defeated?”
“In a way,” Kesher replied. "Akir himself died, some say of poisoning, ten years later after landing on Septech. But he had children and powerful men and women behind him, and the emperor’s legacy lasted for nearly five hundred years, despite constant turmoil at the edges of Shavari rule. The dragonborn wanted nothing with humans in general, and thus did not attempt to crush the empire. The tieflings enjoyed the new trade routes and protection. The dwarves and elves suffered greatly under the humans, but their stories were buried beneath Shavari’s greatness.
“Shavar Tol ended the way everything ended back then: the Cataclysm. The gods disappeared, and Khalin crumbled. The first to die were the Shavari, and the other humans, who, while clever, were not used to dealing with the surge of undead, especially without clerics or most divine magics. In an instant, the great empire was reduced to ashes.”
Kesher pauses, his head bowed as he reflects on those days in his own mind. Vic watches him, always interested in the seldom spoke of memories and emotions of his elder teacher. He fidgets with the ring on his finger, then, remembering the story behind it, removes it and shows it to Kesher.
“Before she died,” he says, “my mother gave me this sigil ring. She said it had been passed down through our family many generations and had something to do with our noble bloodline. Does it look familiar to you?”
Kesher takes the ring and studies it. Gold, with a flat top like a signet ring, embedded with an intricate symbol. He smiles when he sees it, but that smile quickly fades.
“It is nothing,” he says, handing it back to Vic. “Memories of a lost time, unimportant to the present.”
Vic doesn’t believe him, but he keeps his peace. If Kesher wishes to tell him, he will, in time.
Trying to change the subject, Vic says, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, did anything come of your interrogation of the tiefling? Do you know who was spying on you and why?”
“They were all spying on us,” Kesher replies. “The tieflings, I mean. Madur and his associates are members of House Elthorne, one of the more … infamous houses in Beregin. Their trade is in the black market, though no one will say that outright for fear of getting a knife in the back. We had suspected them of being spies but did not want to make an incident out of it.”
Vic notices a frustrated look on Kesher’s face. “Madur was one of the prophesied ones, and, had he ascended to godhood, would most likely have filled Vecna’s position, as the keeper of secrets. Now, he is dead, and we have one less potential god.”
“But he was spying on you! He is in league with the dragonborn—”
“Enough,” Kesher says, and the silence that swoops in is deafening. For what seems like an eternity, Kesher is quiet, staring out at the sea. Vic stands, about to leave, when Kesher says, “There are forces at work here that even I do not understand, Victobar. The tiefling knew very little, less than Madur did, I believe, though what is certain is the alliance that seems to have formed between House Elthorne and Tirusia.”
Kesher stands, slowly, and turns to Vic. “Now, enough questions. Let us sleep.” He puts his hand on Vic’s forehead – the usual Kesher greeting – and smiles warmly.
“Sir,” Vic says, “I know we’ve reached a dark pass in the road, but I intend to do my best to bring hope back to the people of Khalin, and maybe together we can beat back the blight that has infested our lands. I would be honored if you would help us.”
Kesher chuckles. “My dear boy,” he says, “I already am helping you.”