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This Is The Way The World Ends: The Fall Of The Second Age
Ahn-Aru looked out over Narran Harbour, her hands resting gently on the railing of her modest penthouse. She did not look impressive; a young woman still, fair of face and delicate of body, wearing a long purple kimono done up tightly in the latest Imperium style. No one would guess, from looking at her, that she was one of the most powerful beings in existance.
Without turning, she spoke. "Gehster. What did you find?"
The young man who had just raised his hand to knock on Ahn-Aru's doorframe paused for a fraction of a second, and then entering the room, bowing respectfully. He raised his head, with a faint smile. "Milady. The mission was a complete success. The world was a shadowland, devastated and lifeless, but I found the Shard exactly as you said I would." He pulled out a small, jade-lined case, from which a faint green glow could be seen.
Ahn-Aru turned with a smile, walking over to Gehster, and ran a hand over the case lovingly. "Wonderful, Gehster. That brings us up to eighty-one recovered Shards, plus those that bastard Markian stole. We've found almost all of them, now. Take it to Lytek, and have him prepare it as quickly as he can." She surpressed a grin, turning it into a serene smile as she turned towards the window again. "I had thought the Shard lost when Kejak fought the Lion, all those years ago. Its recovery is a great omen for us, Gehster."
"Yes, milady." Gehster smiled as well, and turned to leave. Ahn-Aru barely heard him go, her thoughts drifting back over the years.
A great omen indeed.
The Time Of Tumult
At the close of the Second Age, the world stood in dire peril. The Deathlords mustered their forces, preparing to invade Creation and reduce it to bone and ashes. The Yozi plotted their grandest scheme yet, as the Ebon Dragon prepared to unleash his new Empress upon the world. And the Fair Folk coiled at the edge of the world, waiting for their chance. Even with the Solars returning, the world teetered on the edge of a knife.
The first step in the end of the world was, perhaps appropriately, enacted by a Circle of Solars. Their names have been lost to history, but their actions are known: Somehow, they coaxed the secret needed to destroy the Deathlords forever from the great gods of Great Forks. The Walker In Darkness had been watching these Solars, and, desperate to stop the secret from breaking free, launched his forces into an all-out invasion of Great Forks, hoping to destroy the city forever.
The Walker's actions forced the Deathlords into motion sooner than they had planned. As the secret of their destruction escaped the fall of Great Forks and began to work its way across Creation, every Deathlord triggered their plans in a single, furious, storm of devastation. Caught off-guard, the defenders of Creation rallied to destroy the Deathlords, and they were successful - though the cost was high. Chejop Kejak battled the First And Forsaken Lion southwest of Gem, and though he died in the battle, he weakened the mighty Deathlord enough for a Circle of Solars to carry the fight on and destroy the vicious monster. The Mask of Winters was felled by treachery, as the Green Lady led a party of Lunars led by Anja Silver-Claws to slay him in his own citadel. Leviathan and the Bodhisatva Anointed By Dark Waters died at each others' hands. Even the Lover fell, killed in a vast battle against the Bull of North that left the Icewalkers all but wiped out.
As the battered forces of Creation took stock, counting the hundreds of thousands killed in the war and trying to shrink the shadowlands that had grown in the conflagration, the Ebon Dragon struck. The Scarlet Empress returned to Creation at the head of hundreds of demons and a hundred twisted Infernal Exalted, paving the way for the return of the Yozi as she assailed the gates of Yu-Shan, with the Dragon riding her soul. With so many dead, the Exalted were forced to fall back and commence their second great battle almost before the first was over.
War raged once again across Creation, reaching into the hallowed halls and walkways of Yu-Shan itself; the demon hosts were mildly more interested in keeping their soon-to-be-prize intact than the Deathlords had been, but their numbers were greater, and the Exalted were fewer. Worse, the gods could not fight directly in this war, still bound by the ancient oaths that kept them from fighting the Primordials. Still, the Exalted fought on, a second Primordial War that rivalled the first in its intensity, if not its raw power or duration. Finally, after months of conflict that saw the Dragon-Blooded forced into alliance with the Celestials once again, hundreds of Celestial Exalts killed and hundreds of thousands more mortals, the shattered of the spires of Yu-Shan under demonic advances and their re-capture by Exalted forces, and the fall of a number of Third Circle demons, weakening the Yozi, a powerful Solar Circle, aided by Cathak Cainan, Ragara Myrrun, and Mnemon herself, cornered the Empress in the Imperial Manse, as the Yozi forces began to falter. In an epic battle in the depths of the Manse, they destroyed the Empress and banished the Ebon Dragon back to Malfeas. But the battle was not without its cost; as she died, the Empress unleashed her most devastating attack, killing everyone who had defeated her and destroying the Imperial Manse itself.
Which was the trigger that the Wyld had been waiting for. As one, it rose upwards to smash Creation. The vast majority of the Exalted who had any amount of power were already dead, slain in the wars against Creation's first two great enemies. It seemed that nothing could save it from dissolution.
Death of a Maiden
In Yu-Shan, amidst the devastation and ruin, the Celestial Incarnae gathered to discuss their options. They agreed that there was nothing that they could do to stop the Wyld's advance, but something had to be done.
Finally, Saturn spoke. "There must come an ending. The Age turns, and a new one dawns." The gathered Incarnae fell silent, for they knew the meaning of Saturn's pronouncement. As she had been born during the Primordial War from the destruction of Uranus, as Jupiter had replaced Neptune at the fall of the First Age, one of the Maidens was going to die.
Mars spoke first. "I will die, and my Essence will empower Creation. We will battle the Wyld as we have battled the rest, and the Maiden that replaces me will see a new Creation unfold."
"No." Jupiter shook her head. "The Maiden that replaced you would be Chaos, and the world would be as nothing before the Wyld's onslaught."
Saturn nodded. "It is not yet your time."
"Then it will be me." Venus nodded sadly. "My death will grant Serenity to Creation, and we will endure whatever the Wyld may try to do. They cannot unmake our resolve."
"No. It is not your time, either." Saturn shook her head sorrowfully, and Jupiter nodded, taking up the refrain.
"Your death would grant Serenity, but the Desire that replaced you would be stronger yet. With Desire, the Wyld would overwhelm us soon enough. There is only one who can save us."
Mercury stood. "Then I will start." She smiled. "Remember me, sisters."
"Until the Ages turn, and you return." Saturn stepped forwads, and took Mercury's head in her hands. As Mercury kneeled before her, Saturn leaned forwards and kissed her forehead.
And Mercury died.
And in that instant, a star fell from the heavens, gleaming yellow as it fell towards Creation. And it hit the slopes of Mount Meru, as as it died, Gaia reached out and took it to her heart, and made it over so that the Essence of Journeys empowered her. And it that same instant another star rose, shining brilliant white against the heavens.
And as the Wyld struck what should have been a defenseless Creation, Creation fled before it.
Within moments, Creation was shattered, spreading outwards through the Wyld, connected by only the most tenous of threads. And as the Wyld tried to devour each solitary piece of the world, it found that it slipped and avoided it, holding on to its consistancy no matter what struck it. Linked by its Manses and Demenses, Creation was a thousand thousand worlds, small in the endless expanse of chaos, but strong regardless.
And the Star of Infinity shone over every world, and every path between them, and there were five Maidens once again. And the Third Age dawned.