Epilogue - End of Act I

Epilogue

End of Act I

 

Urgent Report: Elite Dungeoneering team missing, presumed no survivors. Further details enclosed.
Urgent Report: War threatened from the Old Country borders. Dwarven armies rallying along Far Eastern Front of Empire Controlled Territories. Further details enclosed.
Urgent Report: Strange Monster patterns detected in all known Dungeons. Alert level raised for all active Guilds. Further details enclosed.
Urgent Report: Volcanic eruptions spotting off Southern Continent Coasts. Elevated Monster activity reported. Further details enclosed.
Urgent Report: Dungeon Sanctuary destroyed. Hundreds stranded and awaiting Imperial rescue. Further details enclosed. Witness testimony included.
Urgent Report: Dozens killed or wounded in Dungeon Depths! Trade Routes in disarray! Empire Forces drafted! Details enclosed.
Urgent Report: Unknown Sculptures and Unidentifiable runes traced in Dungeon Network. Sanctuary impossible to recover. Unholy origins. Details enclosed. Artist Sketches and Witness Reports included.
Urgent Report: Unsanctioned religious activity recorded. Inquisitors sanctioned and dispersed to known locations.

 

"When in all the gods names will this end!" Yelled Royal adviser Eduard as he leaned back in his chair, hands rubbing violently at his temples. If only such motions could fight off the painful headache approaching for the umpteenth time this evening, he might find some measure of solace. "Truly these are dark times, but why is it that I must suffer personally? What have I ever done to deserve this?" He grumbled, giving in to the exhaustion of the late hour, letting his shoulders slouch in temporary defeat. Within the room of secrecy runes carved atop every brick and board, he knew it would be a rare occasion indeed if someone were to answer his questions anyways.

With a long sigh he stared at the overflowing documents atop his wide wooden desk. Headlines of ink and ledger waiting ever so patiently for his return to their seemingly endless swarms, most yet to be so much as glanced at. He was months behind at this point, and every day further he fell was another step towards the executioner's chopping block. Three straight weeks now: late nights and little sleep- but yet the reports only seemed to increase. What has begun as a post envied by most any scribe, was presently a sickening nightmare. The Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged, Eduard found the easy life had begun nothing but a distant memory, replaced entirely by stress and horrors unbound like the books opened for reference about the floor and little remaining available surface area. It was almost every other day now that the Seers were pulling him in for further council, prying at questions for answers he simply didn't have.

Their demands worsened by the week.

Two years of apprenticeship, working his hands raw to scribble out runes and etchings with endless repetition. Three years as Ledger assistant, proving himself first among equals for those desperate few seen to hold some measure of promise among the droves of poor-yet-educated among the striving lesser houses. From there his career was soon advanced by two more as a Noble's Scribe, signed in oath to a house of kin-ship to the Imperial blood, and then another as Seal keeper for the same province. Loyal, ambitious, dedicated: These attributes were the foundation which lead Eduard Rosel of the Lesser House of Ertra to be selected from the masses for higher privileged. Of course, when telling this story himself, perhaps he might admit to leaving out a few details among the many. Certainly he'd rarely burden someone listening with the messy promotions that came after his early years, maybe all but totally passing by the topic of yet another failed coup gone awry, or how the Empire and its noble lines might have suddenly come about to an immediate (and impressively large) demand for educated servants completely simultaneous with the Palace's choice color of decoration shifting from white to red.

No, instead if asked, Eduard might simply pass such trivial explanations by with a brief statement such as "There had been open positions to be filled" or "His services were in utmost demand." For he was a man ever of the mindset that his accomplishments were more of personal association than just a few random strokes of luck. Perseverance, back-breaking work-ethic, and unwavering loyalty to the Empire: These were the reasons Eduard had found himself seated in the most coveted position known to scribes. Hard work was what had earned him his place in the world, and he'd be damned if anyone was going to tell him otherwise. Still, even he had to admit: if it was hard work that brought him here, it was the same which might see him removed as well.

 

"Blasted Seers, all they care about are their stupid prophesies." He grumbled at the thought of them, leaning over the stack of papers awaiting his review. "A few accidents in the Dungeon, an earthquake or two... As if the world will come to an end in our lifetimes. It's ridiculous, preposterous, utterly insane what they're having me do." Eduard continued, Heresy muttered freely from his lips, as if daring the shut door by the hall to open and spring forth with court inquisitors foaming at the mouth to damn his sorry lot to the dungeons beneath the Palace not five miles East. "I doubt the Emperor himself would bear the burden of this god-forsaken duty."

Perhaps that was just the manner by which he tempted fate, but as he sat their, fuming with anger and staring with his best impression of rage at an innocent ink jar, the ground rumbled beneath him. A heavy rumble that sent his arms flailing backwards, shook papers, dropped books, and wavered candles running low with liquid wax sloshing to and fro before settling with Eduard's own aching backside heavy on the floor- astonished and fearful.

"What in all the world was that?" He uttered, clawing at the side of his desk until he might find enough purchase to drag himself back into his chair. His eyes scanned the room, darting from shadow to shadow, finally resting on the thick door, still shut and locked tight against any who might enter. "Just an earthquake?" He wondered aloud, secrecy rune and wards acknowledged as the breath he'd held back for more than a tense moment finally freed itself from his chest. He winced at his own foolishness. "Of course it was... Of course it was." He answered his won question. Still, it was a painfully long-while until Eduard's heart-rate settled back to a normal rhythm, and he was thankful that the few who had held witness to his moment of stupidity were limited to the many stacks of papers, books, and half-emptied glass bottles of ink. "Coincidence." He muttered finally. "Absolutely just coincidence."

However little logical basis a soul should feel for fear when speaking heresy of the Empire at the farthest of the witching hours, Eduard knew that many an unlucky men had likely been struck down for less, and in far more terrible ways than an earthquake. Still, perhaps he should keep himself in greater check. Though the very thought of what madness drove those old and crusted magicians of the court to torture him with endless assignments and an impossible disregard for his well-being, they still held the favor of the Emperor himself. They might literally chew grass and shit patty like a bison in pasture, but just the Emperor's favor alone would have him picking up after them until his service had reached its final term, and it wasn't his place to say otherwise.

Not unless he fancied himself dying young.

Well, perhaps middle-aged.

"So what if the Earth shakes a bit? There are beasts aplenty to stir, have been for ages." Eduard's growling tone returned, hands reaching about the papers to reshuffle and align the shaken pages of documents. "Always have been, always will be. Monsters and wicked things below, men and heavens above; perfectly natural." Eduard truly believed those words. The Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged was meant to be a cushy job. A career founded on maybe one, perhaps two passing investigations in a lifetime- often without the need for travel. If a particularly strange happening occurred within the empire, or the Seers had some odd mystic prediction, Eduard's task was to investigate. A simple enough thing to demand from a man, especially someone with half a drop's blood away from being a commoner. Eduard didn't mind holding down such a commitment one bit, but that wasn't what this was turning out to be at all. "Ever since the blasted astronomers opened their bloody mouths. Had to report that hogwash on the celestial bodies, didn't they? Just had to make a fuss, get them all riled up, spouting nonsense about that blasted ancient prophesy!"

 

Just like that, his dreams of a simple and rewarding career had been ended. Abruptly shattered to ten-thousand sheets of parchment, and dropped on his desk for review. The whole sum of the Seers' divinations were ridiculous. and though Eduard lacked even the status to whisper that aloud without inviting his doom, their madness was ruining him almost as surely. One missed night of sleep at a time, it was breaking him down like a stone left to weather and crumble. Another month of this stress and he might be claiming the world's own reckoning himself, shouting visions of the coming catastrophe at specters like a daft lunatic roaming the streets and sleeping in alleyways.

For honest thought, Eduard had to admit that might be preferable to this. Truly, he often felt as though the mere act of continuing on his entrusted duties was encouraging the high-seated fools. The past several months especially, what with the Royal astronomers passing along warnings and shouts from their mage-assisted looking glasses. It pained him, really, handing such diligently collected information off to be grossly misinterpreted by mad-men chosen by the great Emperor.

"All because they learned the Ancient Language, all because of that." Eduard tisked again, picking up his quill and dipping it carefully in preparation, "Dabbled in chaos and then went too much too far behind the curtains if you ask me. Not something I'd wish ever for. Believing a few stone scribbles from our grandfather's father's, father's, father's great grandfather's presumed King. Utter foolishness. Stupid, crazy, no-good nonsense." He was pushing his luck today, lips all but singing him to the noose, the ax, or worse. Muttering against the very fabric of the Empire, especially while being employed by that very same thing, was a terrible idea. "Foolish, foolish, foolish." He muttered continually, whispering the words as his quill scribbled notes along in no particular rhythm.

Heresy uttered or not, Eduard was wise enough for a man his age, and every fiber of his being sided in the camp of logic. Logic that said the secrets of the First men weren't for the likes of those living in the current day. Blood like that was cut from a different cloth than the men who resided in the land of mortals now, and as far as Eduard was concerned: prophesies about the world ending were hogwash. One misinterpreted statement from a few thousand years back, misconstrued and used by some war-lusting maniac to take over half the known world and crown himself emperor. If Eduard knew anything about life, it was certainly that a common man need not concern himself with such things. To meet one's purpose and contentment, a man only needed a faithful woman waiting at home and a warm meal twice or thrice a day. Everything else was simply misdirection.

Though maybe some mugs of ale wouldn't hurt anything much.

On the holidays, of course. Those of faith and service had conditions to adhere to, after all. The thought of a nice mug, or even a chilled glass of wine though...

"Aggggg..." Yet here he was. Not a home, not with a woman, and most certainly not enjoying a hot meal with ale! All because of these blasted reports! All because some Crazed magicians thought they were witnessing the world's end! "Has it ever been this bad?" Eduard let his tongue click against stained teeth as he picked up the last report atop the pile, the likes of which had arrived only just hours passed by a tired looking messenger. It bore a blaring red wax- recently stamped with the magic-crested seal of glowing ambiance. Highest of the orders it seemed. Impenetrable to seeking hands and scouring eyes, likely rigged with all manners of clever traps- Eduard had little doubt.

Sighing in heavy resign to his duty, he lifted his hands, the barest sweep of his post's ring lighting the spark that burst the wax aside like a priest might banish a ghoul- material falling off to the shadows beneath the desk. His tired eyes watched as the paper unfolded and the ink ran from a jumble of unreadable patterns into something more legible. A practiced swirl of elegant and practiced penmanship conveying information of apart utmost importance.

Urgent Report:

Strange lights seen in the Great Forest.
The Wayside Guild...

Eduard paused, squinting at the words, uncertain.

"...Younglings missing..." He stared at it. "Sword Master missing, multiple casualties... Monster extinction event..." The headache began to creep back in, growing worse by the passing second. "Goblin tribes committing ritual suicide? Evidence of suspected Elven Blood Rituals?" He looked back over the words again. "What in all the gods is this? Is this even the correct report?" He muttered aloud, eyes squinting for some deeper insight and finding none.

If skimming only turning his mind about in confusion, he had to reason trying with a heavier level of attention might make the difference as he tried for a third pass at the weighty pile of words. Not just a summary, but actual collected testimonies- a significant rarity that caused his eyes to narrow, gaze slow turning to disbelief until his hands shook careless drops of ink from the quill he'd prepared. "Lords above, Kings below, this is madness itself." The ink scrolled further, and further, and further. The more Eduard read, the more it pressed words onto the paper- seemingly endless as it carried on with witness testimonies, artistic sketches, government and local reports, trade and ledger information. On and on it pressed into his tired mind, building up like the pressure between his eyes. It got worse.

And worse.

And worse.

Worse, worse, worse!

Everyday it was worse!

He couldn't hand this to them! He just couldn't! Everyday he handed those blasted Seers more wood for their flaming bout of insanity! They would have another mountain of work for him after this! By the First King of men himself- Eduard was absolutely certain of it, they might even send him to investigate personally! Knowing the position, he might have to bend knee and mount a bloody expedition; it was common knowledge that men on expeditions rarely got three warm meals or faithful women.

Reading it again, Eduard came to recognize the absolute nightmare held in his shaking hands. Hands trembling once in fear, now gone white with rage all but uncontained.

"Damn it all!" Eduard set down his quill with anger, seething at the unfairness of it all. He should be home, tucked in bed by a warm hearth and his wife. If ever got to the bottom of who or what was behind this, be it a Demon- a god, or the first King of men in the flesh himself: he swore by his father's own name and honor and pick up the sword to deal with the bastard himself. "I'll deal with you myself! You hear me? Myself!"

"Deal with who, yourself?" A cold voice answered, striking an immediate chill to the fires of anger that burned to fiercely in Eduard's chest not the barest of instants before. Gasping in horror, Eduard turned to see the black cloaked and hooded figure of a Seer's informant waiting silently beside the doorway, noiseless presence almost impossibly molded with the shadows of the candlelight within the room.

"How... how long have you been there?" Eduard asked, shock and fear composing themselves as quickly as he found possible, hands rushing to straighten out his robes as he rose from his seat. "I didn't hear you come in."

"Ah, they never do." The shadowed figure replied, voice arriving and ceasing with unnatural suddenness. As if the words snuffed out to silence the second they arrived, not resonating further beyond the passing of their purpose. "And not long ago... I have only just received my commands."

"Well? What is it then?" Eduard replied, taking the gruffest tone he dared to muster with the eerie figure. "I've got more than enough to deal with at the moment, and no time to waste."

"That you do, Dignified Leader to the Investigation Post of the Second Privileged." The coldness of the reply cut Eduard like a knife. "Much to do... So very much, I wonder if you'll manage?"

"Out with it. Why are you here, and at this hour no less."

"Ah... to bring you this." A parchment emerged, old-fashion roll fitting and prim with seals and decorations of the Royal house unmistakably clear upon the material's borders. The faint outline of a sickly white hand emerged with it, as the roll of paper was set carefully down atop a towering stack of papers waiting beside the door. Though Eduard wasn't able to see the man's face clearly, his detected a smile along with those eerie words and form, as the man stepped back into the blackness of the hall, shutting the door once more behind him. "I wish you luck, dealing with it yourselfDignified Leader. Best of luck, in fact."

 

The moment stretched. One, then two, then three, before Eduard finally had the courage to approach the seal, hand setting carefully upon the fine and delicate casings to pull it open and heed its message. As it turned out though, there was little for him to read.

For the glorified eyes of the Privileged alone:

The Great Forests of the Northern continent have been lost in their entirety by the flames of Chaos.

By confirmation of the Royal seers and the Emperor himself, it is known:

The Ancient Prophecy has begun.