The Era of Great Beasts

What little is known in the north about the Field of Broken Crowns comes from the rare survivors who managed to flee by way of magic before the end.

No force that the gathered nations of Zenáthras could muster was able to stand before the combined might of Ren Shin and Alutuus and thousands died, then tens of thousands, as they pushed implacably towards the heart of Dyykada.  The last record known comes from a scribe named Coost, who managed to flee with a group of injured mages even as the Traitor-Heroes reached the Capitol Gardens.  His account tells of their planar allies pulling back, forming an impenetrable ring around the city's innermost ward through which neither steel nor magic could pierce.  Alutuus turned to Ren Shin and the pair eyed each other for a long moment, before the warrior-woman backhanded the scholar hard enough to leave him spitting blood.  He then stood straight, nodded a single time, and disappeared in a flash of magic.

A second flash of magic saw Coost and his companions safe in the halls of Prytek, half a world away.

What followed is known to all who lived through that day, for mere minutes later, there was a flash and all humanoids connected to the Well felt a burning inside their brains as the collapsed where they stood, helpless against the pain.  When the fire in their minds died, not a single one amongst them could feel the power of numina.

Later explorers would claim that, in Baracca'laias, there was no sign that mortal hand had ever touched the wilderness, the land instead cracked and overgrown as if abandoned for millennia.  They would be the last explorers for centuries, for soon the beasts of the land would show signs of change, growing to tremendous sizes and possessing the terrible, innate magic that would come to typify the resident monsters of the Direwild.

It seemed that even as mortal magic faded, the power of the monsters of the world grew, though it was realized by scholars much later that this was merely an illusion created by humanity's loss not only of their own magic but of the heroes that had protected them in ages past.  With so many of their greatest warriors dead or stranded south of the Galecage, the nations of the north were at the mercy of a vicious world that would only grow more terrifying by the day.

The hot, equatorial waters of the Galecage had been made passable by mortal magic, but now, the eternal hurricanes that surged across it made the equator a belt that few could pass going even just one way, let alone on a round trip.  The two hemispheres of Zenáthras were isolated from one another.

This story—our story—follows only the north from this point on.

No longer hunted by mortal hands, the creatures that had been pushed to the fringes of civilization began to reappear with greater frequency and ferocity.  In the years immediately following the Field of Broken Crowns, the mortal races were regrouping and husbanding the magical supplies that remained, for, while they could not create new ones, there seemed to be no diminishing in the powers of old weapons or potions and even scrolls still retained enough numina to be activated by experienced hands.

But these supplies would wane over time, as the populations of monsters grew and the inhabitants of cities found their lifestyles increasingly impossible to maintain.

As those years turned to decades, people began to hear stories of villages disappearing overnight, their houses torn apart and their citizens disappeared or, even worse, found as little more than bloody remnants.  Fewer and fewer merchant caravans were traveling the roads as they, too, began to vanish between destinations.

On the Night of Maws, a pack of over a thousand monstrous wolves came surging out of the north and striking at the capital of Elestra, charged with magical energy that the people had no hope of combating.  It was the first major city to fall to the predation of monsters...but it would be far from the last.  Coost would die as Prytek fell to the storm giants of the Thaudrig Mountains who laughed as they hurled spears of lightning without answering magic from their victims.  Vyson of the Rotting Dale smashed the crystal domes of Geesa nn Quoa, leading an army of troglodytes that had united beneath the black dragon's banner.  Tarnhead fell to an army of white spiders as wyverns settled in the ruins of Nychek and, everywhere, the cities of the mortal races were giving way to the hunger of monsters.

But it was not an age completely bereft of hope.  Along the southern branch of the Wall, the great barrier mountains that surrounded the pole, Duchak the Elder looked out and grieved.  Mightiest of all dragon-kind, he was a great golden wyrm that kings and princes had long sought out for advice or simply to offer tribute.  As the cities that dotted the plains and cliffs of his home fell, one by one, to the onslaught of monsters, Duchak approached the human prince Gynus Praesor who was struggling to defend the walled city of Clockwork Garden.  Duchak proposed to Praesor that the city send hand-picked warriors with him and he would teach them to do battle from dragonback and they would partner with some of Duchak's children.  So were born the first Dragon Knights and the seeds of the Council were sown.

This agreement secured Clockwork Garden while its neighbors grew increasingly desperate, and soon the Dragon Knights were moving to defend larger and larger swaths of territory.  In the Garden, meanwhile, people began directing first praise and then prayers to Duchak and his kin.  At one such service, a young washerwoman named Tylo Mabrigan began to glow with a holy light before, in a white flash, energy came spilling out of her.  All those gathered at the church found their injuries vanishing and their illnesses fading away.  At the same time, Duchak felt a miniscule tug on his numina, a small piece flitting away.

When word reached the golden wyrm of what had transpired, he suspected that Mabrigan had borrowed an iota of his strength.  Over the following days, several more of these favored souls exhibited powers similar to the priests of eras past.  Duchak felt more of his strength bleed away, but it would return with rest and, he discovered, every time his numina replenished, it was infinitesimally greater than before it had been borrowed.

Duchak brought this discovery to the attention of some of his peers, such as Seeve the Silver and Thykondrot the Brass, who were amazed at the idea.  Like Duchak, they had approached cities along the Wallshard Heights and swiftly, many of them were allied with the dragons.  In time, these scattered cities would unite beneath Duchak, who was given direct rule of Clockwork Garden when Gynus Praesor died without an heir.  He raised his fellows to rulership with him and so was born the mightiest of modern nations, the Council of Wyrms.

Word of what had transpired filtered across the northern hemisphere.  Soon, villages set about seeking out sources of magic, the Great Beasts whose numina could be shared.  In cases such as Idyle and Tholaqua and the Tide Princes, these agreements bore fruit and so gave rise to the system of patronage that exists to this day.  In others, such as Möth Unvidia and the Tyrancy of Geddephron, lands were taken and the inhabitants used to increase their master's power.  In still others, such as Imbara, the humanoids living there have clung to their independence, refusing to bend knee to a Great Beast and so persist without magic.

That is the modern world, where cities rise within the reach of powerful monsters and their mortal vassals, but terrible wilderness stretches between.  Though the most powerful regions such as the Council can stay connected on dragonback or through their fleets of airships, many others are isolated pockets where outsiders are seen rarely if at all.  Even with patronage, the power available to the mortals is a dim shadow of what was seen during the Era of Heroes.

It is a time of small dreams and fragile hopes.