Fragments of Time: Part Eight

Following His summit with Bamathis, the Hunter began formulating His trap to ensnare the rampaging Yvalamon. From His halls in the Temple of Thorns He set to work, brooding over the final components that lay in a place no one wanted to go. Creeping rot infests Dendara, an unending onslaught of encroaching filth that slowly devours the plane. Though so many work to keep it at bay, the advance of shadow is unrelenting, and nowhere more starkly feels this interminable degradation than the Breakage: the place where shadow seethes most strongly, where aberrations and rotspawn roam to spread their vileness. It was there that the Hunter’s final materials resided.

In a quiet clearing, a humble cabin rests. Within that cabin, the Hunter counseled a Shaman known as Illidan, darkly commanding the man to say goodbye to all his loved ones and make his peace, for the journey into Breakage might not be a safe one. Unfortunately, this goodbye would not come to pass, for Illidan’s wife, Valorie Aresti, had vanished from this world. Despite his best efforts to resurrect her, she was lost, destroyed by the confluence and trapped outside of time. With a breaking heart, Illidan instead attended Haern at the Great Oak, where the Hunter explained to Duiran that they would be walking into the thick of corruption, deep into Dendara. Rhydderch, the Runecarver, would open the way inside, spoke Haern, and then the God was gone.

Deep in Dendara lies a bloodied ritual slab, carved with the ancestral stories of champions past. It is to this slab the Shaman Illidan was led, and it was on this slab he swore anew oaths to the Guardians, to Dendara, and to Haern. Hushed voices of spirits whispered his name, passing it along as the trees joined in anxious onlooking. As the ancient ritual proceeded, aberrations broke through the Breakage, drawn by the essence of Life so potent and so vigorous in the air. Rage filled the Hunter as He abandoned the ritual, urgently coming to the defence of the Guardians before tragedy could befall them.

While the Shaman and Hunter did their work, Rhydderch the Runecarver led Duiran to the Valley of the Ancients and began carving a path through the fog to lead them into Breakage. Filth rose to meet them the instant they crossed into Dendara, hordes of rotspawn and aberrations surging forth to feast upon the new arrivals. The Duiranites took up their arms and began to fight, felling them with the combined fury of the wilds.

Meanwhile, Valorie Aresti had ascended into the heavens, so far away from the globe of Aetolia that it seemed as a mere dot to her. There, she met with one of the continent’s famed constellations: Veithadros, the hopeful. The celestial entity was merely a memory of the mortal life that had presaged it, but with consciousness enough to possess a twofold purpose in summoning her.

The first of these purposes was to warn her of the peril in which her husband, Illidan, lay – and to this end, Veithadros revealed visions of his potential death, subdued and blighted against his purpose of Dendaric protection. Horrified, she listened all the more closely to him, promising anything in exchange for the power to save Illidan from his fate.

The constellation gave her his legend, though it was not the simple one the Mejevsavelnel had recorded in times past. He spoke of his life as a tailor, and of his lover and eventual wife Keviti, an Ankyrean of the Conclave of Science and Nature, and the romance that had blossomed between them. She had ridden off, leaving him bereft to watch for her, knitting her a fine scarf in anticipation of her return.

A return that never came.

The sky so pitied his circumstance that it raised him amongst the stars, transforming him into a constellation. Only then had he seen Keviti – dead in her grave, hand-in-hand with an Ankyrean husband, with descendants to honor their graves. Finishing his tale, Veithadros urged Valorie to do what he could not: bring her love back home.

In the final moments of their sidereal conversation, the constellation revealed that the confluence had been Aechros’ doing, and that the Albedi God’s goal in facilitating this meeting was to preserve the Hunter’s existence, though its reasons for doing so were unclear. So imbued with the celestial power of legend, he sent Valorie back to the Prime to rejoin her beloved in the Valley.

With Haern on the back foot, caught between defending Illidan and defending the Guardians, it seemed the Shaman would die for naught, and be joined by the hale Hunter. In that moment, the stars aligned, and Valorie Aresti, now reborn as an Aetherial – one graced with the deep empathy of the stars – scoured the rot from the grove in bursts of calescent starlight. With Haern now able to complete the ancient, secret ritual, Illidan gave his life for the Wilds, and Dendara herself responded: wisps of Life from all across the plane traveled to the primordial grove to breathe life anew into the corpse of a Shaman that lie atop the deathbed and, in a moment of exultation, Illikaal rose, named Tiarna an-Kiar by the Guardians.

As the filth grew in numbers and in confidence, desperation struck a solemn tone within the Breakage, the seemingly endless legions pouring forth to spread their rot. Each time the forces of Duiran repelled them from one of the glades, fresh waves appeared to lay siege to another, and on and on it went for half a day, the enveloping shadow striving desperately to destroy the few remaining healthy glades. Respite came for the briefest of moments, a lull in the gruesome conflict that rekindled fresh hope in those gathered. The Duiranites dared to breathe. But then it came.

A seething aberration of monstrous, murderous proportions tore its way through the Breakage, eyes trained upon the western glade. Though they threw everything at it, the lesser rotspawn still surged in great numbers. Death presided on both sides, and as the great monstrosity broke through the barrier, it set to ravaging the western glade until naught remained but rotten foliage and dead, lifeless trees.

Moving between cairns at speeds only a God could manage, Haern delivered Illikaal and Valorie to the Breakage, still fresh from their trials. There, they witnessed a truly gargantuan aberration and, with a vicious bellow, Haern led Illikaal, Valorie, and the combined might of Duiran and its allies in battle against the monster.

Though many suffered, the Hunter and His cadre triumphed over the hungering rot, the beast’s keening scream echoing across the shattered skies of Dendara as it fell. Haern retrieved what He had first sought to ensnare the Tumult, and with no small measure of relief, led the contingent back to Duiran, where they would live – if only barely – to fight another day.