Anthenia, 200 Years after the Bombs Fell
After the bombs fell, Anthenia rose. Surrounded on three sides by the sea and backed up against a series of cascading cliffs, Anthenia was a settlement of rock and salt. The people chiseled their homes out of the cliffs: cold, gray domiciles stacked one on top of the other, connected by walkways and tunnels that snaked in, out, and around the mountain. Atop the cliffs were rolling green meadows populated with cattle and wild horses. Nesting far below, in the lap of the churning waters, they built a market to establish trade among the citizenry. The market was erected atop a large flat surface of black shale rising just high enough above the waterline to avoid being swamped by the surf. It was enclosed on all sides by a wall of thick stone, with a narrow opening at its center, allowing access to the seemingly endless waters beyond. Over time, ships and boats began to appear from beyond the horizon, and trade flourished. The traveling merchant ships carried stories of far off lands: stories of devastation and survival. Alongside their stories they brought exotic goods to trade: all manner of spices, food, tools, and clothing. Anthenia thrived. It became a shining jewel of oceanic commerce. Their population grew rapidly as visitors became settlers. Additional homes were carved out of the wide open cliffside. Over time it became a panorama of ornate masonry; stonework doors, roofs, windows, and balconies, with wash lines strung over the edge, colorful rugs and linens flapping in the sea breeze. Many years passed. The people of Anthenia were happy. The only rule they suffered under was one of peace and prosperity.
Everything changed the night the Bone Ships came. The moon was fat and the waters were calm, rippling silently in its pale light. Across the horizon three gruesome constructs appeared. The people of Anthenia gathered on their balconies to watch their approach, stirred from slumber by the harsh bite of the watchman’s bell. The ships were ivory in color, formed from the bones of man and beast. Calcified fragments hung from the fixtures and railings. Holes dotted the black masts. The ships glided across the surface of the water on the back of the breezeless night as if being towed by some invisible, demonic force. Aboard the ships stood an army, half man and half beast, grunting at the full moon as they drew closer to the seaside city, their long, unkempt hair beating their shoulders red as they whipped their heads about in frenzy. Their bone armor was chipped and stained with the blood of conquests past. Their leader stood at the head of the central vessel. His pale armor was bulky, making him appear much larger than he actually was. There was a skull perched on each of his shoulders, staring out like a pair of dead birds, following their master’s gaze. He wore a long black cape that fastened to the back of his armor and flowed down across his heels. Unlike the other men, he wore no mask. His face was pale, with thick scars and deep lines. His eyes were wide and wild and the pupils were a solid, nightmare black. And while the other men carried swords, axes, and clubs, he carried a gnarled staff with a glowing orb secured to the end. Their siege was a bloodless one. The people of Anthenia did not fight back. They had nothing to fight back with, just the skin on their hands and crude tools to carve through rock. They submitted to the invaders, grateful for their lives. The Eval swept through the city and gathered everyone in the marketplace, forming a loose circle around the frightened citizens.
The pale leader with the shoulder-mounted skulls and the glowing staff addressed them. “Citizens of Anthenia, we are the Eval Naturae, the people of the Darkened Planes. Your city now belongs to us. I am General Osiris Tirook and I lead this army. Do not resist, do as we command, and you will be allowed to live. We are not here for you or your possessions. We are not here to rape your women or to indoctrinate your young. We are here in search of a power far beyond your simple understanding, one that we have tracked across oceans and deserts.” At that moment, he raised his staff, drawing their attention to the glowing orb at its head. “Far beyond those cliffs, beyond the fields on which you graze your cattle, in the heart of the Aphotic Lands, is the birthplace of the Gods. Your duty as of this moment is to help us find it.”
A wiry old man with shaky knees and the temperament of a hungry bear stood and began shaking a fist at the heavily armored conqueror. “Those lands are toxic. Men go in and they don’t come out again. I will not let you send my people to their death.”
Osiris’ hollow laugh echoed through the night, enveloping them, smothering them. “Your people?” Osiris stepped forward and touched the glowing orb to the old man’s forehead. “These are not your people. What I want, I take. And that includes your miserable soul.” The orb flashed and the old man went rigid. His arms flew straight out at his sides, his fingers trembled, each of them contorting in a different direction. His chin jerked skyward as beams of light shot out of his eyes. He gasped as the breath was ripped from his lungs. He fell straight back, his head cracking against the stone surface. The people did their best to muffle their shock, crying into the shoulders of their loved ones. “Is there another among you that wishes to defy me?” Osiris turned, rotating the humming orb just above the heads of the terrified Anthenians. “Good. Let’s begin.”
The citizens of Anthenia were forced to give quarter to the Eval Naturae and their families. Homes became cramped. Beneath their masks, the rest of the men were as scarred and pale as Osiris. Most of them had a wife or two. Their women were long and slender, serpent-like, with raven hair and predatory eyes. Even their children seemed to carry a darkness; they rarely played and they never smiled, they just sat and watched the world pass around them, waiting for something that never seemed to come.
Over time, the Eval built their own homes, which is to say they forced the people of Anthenia do it for them. It took years. Many men and women fell to their deaths as they were forced to venture further out onto more precarious and uncharted portions of the rockface in order to find room for the new domiciles. But it was light labor compared to the castle Osiris forced them to build in the meadow atop the cliffs.
“It will be a sight to be reckoned with. Our enemies will know our power, far and wide. And our subjects will bow lower and longer.” He led a small group of exhausted laborers up the stone staircase that linked the plateau to the market, drawing the castle with his staff as he went. “I see four towers, curtain walls, and ramparts extending off the front; I want to limit the points of approach. I see a pinnacle, front and center. I want a guardhouse too. Oh and a stockade…some sort of dungeon. I’d like to have another tool at my disposal for meting out punishment; too much death and the people become bored…desensitized.” Atop the cliffs, Osiris turned circles in the lush green meadows, sending the horses and cattle scattering, his grin touching his earlobes. “Yes, it’s perfect. It is from this seat that I will command my armies to go forth. Build it.”
The Kingdom of Anthenia, 400 Years after the Bombs Fell
Trade turned to a trickle and the market withered. The sight of the Bone Ships sent honest merchants scattering to the four winds. The only ones that stepped forward to do business were brigands. Cutthroats. Men trading in the goods and people they raided from other distant lands. The Eval welcomed them with open arms. With the construction of the castle underway and men dying on a regular basis, Osiris welcomed all the slaves he could get. Building his palace took decades. Upon completion, Osiris declared Anthenia a kingdom and himself its ruler. Generations of Anthenians lived and died under his rule, yet Osiris and his men never seemed to age. The magic they’d harnessed wasn’t just contained in Osiris’ staff; it was in their blood and marrow. But for Osiris and his men, the power they’d harnessed wasn’t enough to satisfy. They wanted more.
Every year Osiris sent more Anthenian men north into the Aphotic Lands: a sunless hellscape of glowing, green swamps, deadwood trees, and moss covered hills. Osiris’ bone-wrapped soldiers marched them to their deaths, shovels and picks in hand, lording over them with sword, dagger, and shield. Death didn’t come quickly for the enslaved. It came over a span of years. It started slow, with a cough, then bleeding from the eyes—it was consumption from within. But no matter how high the bodies piled, no matter how many caves were dug, and no matter how many tunnels were burrowed, the birthplace of the Gods was nowhere to be found. This infuriated Osiris. Drove him mad. And the people of Anthenia paid the price in blood.
Under the age of six—six being the number of corruption, according to Osiris.
Osiris performed the sacrifices himself, before each new expedition, slitting the babe from navel to neck while holding it by one ankle over the highest point of the cliffs, letting the blood and entrails splash to the waters below while pleading with the Gods to reveal themselves. Attending the ceremony was not required. But cooperation was. If the parents of the unlucky child resisted (they usually did) then they were cut down as well.
This bloody tradition would last for decades, until a hero finally came forward to put an end to Osiris’ reign.
450 Years after the Bombs Fell
That hero’s name was Valerick Shalewind. He was the son of Buskar and Antonia Shalewind, both murdered when they tried to defend his sister from being taken as a sacrifice. Valerick was too little to fight back. Too little to do anything but hide in the corner and weep and snot all over himself. But that changed when he turned twenty. He’d had enough. He raised an army of his own. A group of men and women willing to die if it meant no longer living under Osiris’ rule. For a year they met in secret, using the walkways and tunnels that connected Anthenia to sneak around the guards at night. They mapped the layout of the city, the castle, and the market. With every spare moment they had, they formulated their plan of attack.
One night, as some of them sat fashioning weapons and talking strategy, a full-figured woman, wearing brass rings on her right wrist and a dirty bandanna on her head, raised her hand, drawing Valerick’s attention away from the ongoing conversation. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but what good is this going to do? They don’t age. They’re immortal.”
Many in the cramped, candlelit room nodded in time, silently echoing her concern.
Valerick acknowledged her with a sigh as he continued fashioning his blade, grinding stone against stone. “Just because time can’t kill them, doesn’t mean we can’t. I saw one of them cut his finger while chopping up a piece of fruit in the market yesterday. He bled. He felt pain.”
“And what of Osiris and his staff and the magic stone?”
To that, Valerick smiled. “One man, one staff, one stone. We are many. Have faith. Victory will be ours.” His unwavering confidence brought little relief to the group.
It was a rain-soaked night when they finally launched their attack. The moon was concealed behind a thick blanket of clouds. The waves crashing against the rocks masked their footsteps as they swept through the city, slitting the throats and piercing the hearts of the Eval. Just as Valerick had predicted, they weren’t immune to the blade. They started in the market and spread out like a line of infantry, climbing walls and skittering across rooftops, using the thick strips of untouched cliffside that divided each level of the city to ascend towards the castle. They were close to the peak when the alarm was raised; someone had found a body. From that point forward, it became all out war. The Eval had the advantage of elevation. They used that advantage, throwing rocks, spears, and whatever else they had, down onto the heads of their Anthenian attackers. But Valerick and his army still managed to push forward, carried by sheer desperation alone. They stormed the castle. In the throne room they found Osiris, hiding behind a line of his bone clad soldiers, his staff and its glowing orb clasped securely in his right hand. The two sides held their ground, hunkered low in their battle stances, glowering at each other. Without warning Osiris raised his staff and cut the air with it, hurling a ball of purple flame towards Valerick and his rebels. They jumped out of the way, diving left and right. The fireball exploded against the castle doors, splintering them.
“Kill them!” Osiris commanded.
Valerick and his army recovered just in time to meet their enemy. The fighting was fierce. Bodies on both sides fell, gutted and bludgeoned, staining the floor red with their blood. Valerick managed to skirt the room and snuck up beside Osiris. As he readied himself for the killing blow, Osiris turned and raised his staff to block the sword strike. Valerick’s blade sliced straight through the staff, sending the orb toppling towards the ground. Osiris cried out and tried to catch it, stumbling over his efforts. The orb hit the ground and released a burst of energy that knocked Osiris and Valerick backward. Valerick lost consciousness. When he came to, Osiris and his men had fled north into the Aphotic Lands. As Valerick rubbed his head and tried to find the strength to stand, he looked over and noticed the orb sitting on the ground beside him.
Much change came to Anthenia in the years that followed.
It wasn’t long before Anthenia’s markets were once again bustling and new settlers were arriving. The people wanted security. They wanted a leader. And of course there was the now empty castle looming above their city. They got together and took a vote. It was unanimous. Valerick was named king. The first thing he did was raise a standing army; they were outfitted with steel swords and leather armor—fashioned from the left over supplies Osiris had used to build his castle. They also built a large wall across the northern border, just in case Osiris had any aspirations on returning. Valerick took a wife; a fisherman’s daughter. They had two children: a boy named Byron and a girl named Roserine. Valerick didn’t know what to do with the orb from Osiris’ staff, but he knew the memories attached to it brought him discomfort, so he had it locked away in a chest in the dungeons, never to be spoken of again. True peace never returned to Anthenia. The shadow of Osiris remained. The only comfort the people found was in the knowledge that if he did return, they’d be ready.