Nightbird launches on Feb 1st, so I thought I would post a teaser. This is the expanded prologue I decided to trim down in the final draft. It gives a good idea of what happened after the fall of the Highlords of Phaer https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MXLRPGU
The rebellion had been won, or at least concluded, in a matter of days. Whether anyone could be declared a winner remained to be seen. Freedom meant an end to the highlords’ reign, but also to everything the people of Eidolan once knew. It was more than just the beginning of a life of self-determination. The very world changed with the sorcerers’ destruction and the end of magic. Landscapes shifted, opening great chasms and raising new mountains almost overnight.
Other evolutions took more time. Hedon had always been an unforgiving and challenging world, but with the highlords’ demise, it became downright murderous. Storms ravaged the land with increasing frequency. The creatures forced to survive such hellish environments, including much of humankind, changed with it, their transformations fueled by the massive release of arcane energy.
The metamorphosis was Arikhan’s last act of magic, a spell of epic proportions designed to punish those who brought him and his ruling class down so that the survivors and their offspring would suffer an eternity for their treason.
The leaders of the rebellion rose up to become the rulers of the four great cities. Thuul, being closest to Phaer when it fell, suffered the greatest. When Brelon finally reached his home aboard the Drake, he found nothing but ruin. As the storms relented, the city’s few survivors struck out across the harsh land in search of new homes, returning to their isolated, nomadic ways.
Brelon and those who followed him headed north, packed aboard the Drake until it could no longer fly, its heart stone depleted with no known way to charge it. The Thuumian warrior and his crew completed the trek on foot, battling storms, wildlife, and human survivors turned marauders fighting to stay alive. Out of the two thousand men and women Brelon led through the desert, only nine hundred-seventy reached Velaroth where they found not salvation, but a city teetering on social collapse.
The months following the fall were ones of cooperation. The now free people found unity in the struggle to survive, but as food became increasingly sc
arce, dissent arose. Unity turned into a competition to survive, and competition led to violent skirmishes as normally peaceful people were driven to save themselves and their family.
Glisteran was fortunate. Thanks to the fertile fields being largely sheltered from much of the chaos in her distant valley, the people there did not suffer the great deprivations of the other cities until they ran out of powder for their muskets and cannons and could no longer defend the crops and farmers from the world’s new monsters.
Famine soon spread through Nibbenar, Velaroth, and Vulcrad. The citizens of Velaroth and Vulcrad blamed the refugees from Thuul for the food shortages. Had they simply stayed and died with their city, then there would be enough to eat. If not enough, at least more. Infighting threatened to destroy them from within, but thanks to Jareen, Atin, and Rayna’s strong leadership, they survived long enough to adapt.
While true magic died with the highlords, a new source of power emerged. Magic had not simply fled the world, it was captured and driven into the ground by the lightning inundating the great dust storms following the highlords’ demise. Dubbed mage glass, the artificial stone trapped power within its crystalline structure much like the sorcerer-created heart stones.
Lowborn sorcerers like Lorbash and the other surviving pilots first discovered the mage glass’ magical properties and potential and learned how to harness it for practical purposes.
A new kind of sorcerer arose called techno-arcanist. Techno-arcanists discovered how to exploit the power of mage glass by channeling the gems’ energy through complex sigils and patterns carved into objects and inlaid with gold just as the sorcerers and shipwrights had done to make airships fly.
The problem was that the energy within the mage glass was a finite resource, and once drained of power, became nothing more than a mere bauble. Close to a century passed before the arcanists discovered a method of capturing the faint energy still present in the world to restore exhausted stones.
Shimmersilk, long known as a luxury material created by the great worms that burrowed through the desert sands, now grown to colossal size, contained many fantastic properties. Beyond its incredible strength and beauty, it was able to collect energy from the sun and aether and, with clever use of techno-arcanist-crafted technology, direct that power back into mage glass.
It took decades to find arcanstones large enough and pure enough to power and lift an airship. However, the old airships had decayed beyond use and no one in Velaroth knew how to make a new one. Not only were the raw materials in short supply, the few techno-arcanists that arose within the city’s population were unable to recreate the complex geometric patterns needed to make an airship fly.
The people no longer knew anything but the hard life thrust upon them by the highlords’ destruction. Even the old stories about the liberation and the heroics of Jareen Velarius, first Duke of Velaroth, no longer inspired they city’s citizens. Many began to wonder if the sorcerers were truly as terrible as the tales told and if they would not be better under their oppressive rule instead of suffering the withering, daily fight for survival.
It was almost one hundred-fifty years to the day since their liberation, and the common citizens of Velaroth had ceased celebrating the anniversary generations ago. The few families that considered themselves noblemen, like the Velarius line, or part of the small aristocracy that managed to rise above the rabble, still gathered to commemorate their ancestors’ valiant actions.
Although better off than the people they ruled, the city leaders were nothing more than myopic, one-eyed men and women amongst the blind. Wealth in any form did little good when almost nothing existed upon which to spend it. That changed on one glorious day.
Horns blared and bells rang, alarms that only signaled an approaching dust storm or a worm sighting—that terrifying, colossal, burrowing beasts from whose waste was instrumental in making gunpowder and creating shimmersilk.
However, it was not a worm sighting nor storm that roused the men guarding the city’s massive walls, but a speck in the sky that slowly resolved into voluminous sails towering over a sleek airship. Citizens and the gendarme rushed to the old mooring yard with wary excitement. No one alive had ever seen an intact airship much less one flying. As word spread, thousands of people jammed into the streets and pushed toward the port.
Then one fateful day, an airship from Nibbenar, that fabled city whose highborn sorcerer class had been second only to Phaer’s, appeared on the horizon. Nibbenar’s great craftsmen had unraveled the mystery and complexity of airship construction once again. Their arcanists had discovered how to harness and manipulate the mage glass’ stored arcane power even before Velaroth had, but they never figured out how to recharge them once depleted.
Great worms did not exist near the coastal city of Nibbenar, so they lacked the materials to create shimmersilk as well as gunpowder, even if they possessed the knowledge. It had taken them another century to create new heart stones and harvest enough materials in which to build an airship. An entire generation of techno-arcanists worked feverishly to create the patterns needed to shape the stone’s power to make an airship fly.
With two heart stones in their possession, an intrepid group of explorers set out to reconnect with the other great cities, knowing that it was likely a one way trip that might leave them stranded in an inhospitable land. When their first heart stone had become depleted prior to reaching Velaroth, some of the crew had wanted to turn back, but enough of them had urged the captain to set the second heart stone and push on, trusting that Velaroth not only still stood but had the resources to allow them to continue their journey.
The old saying held true; fate smiled upon the bold. Velaroth’s techno-arcanists replaced the Nibbenese airship’s canvas sails with ones made of shimmersilk and ran lines to recharge their heart stone. They then stripped the city bare to gather enough materials to create their own airship.
Even though the cities worked together, harsh isolation had created a rift filled with deep distrust. Velaroth would not give up the secret of making powder or shimmersilk, which was required to recharge depleted arcanstones, Nibbenar refused to reveal how to make airships, Velaroth claimed the iron and void stone mines as their own and bartered their metalworking skills, and only Glisteran could keep the cities fed. All understood that the road to prosperity and even their continued survival meant cooperation, so they traded their accomplishments and resources but not their knowledge.
Within months, Hedon, or at least the land of Eidolan in which the cities stood, had two airships, and with them, they would reunite and reclaim the world they had lost. Sailing together, they soon rediscovered Vulcrad. The city had been hit hard but she still stood. Her people had weathered the cataclysm in the mines for which they were famous. Thuul was not as fortunate. The remnants of the city stuck out of the sand like the bones of a long-dead beast, her citizens cast to the wind.
When the ships approached Eidolan’s former capital of Phaer, they found a great storm raged across the region, threatening to destroy any who dared disturb its grave. Glisteran, fertile, glorious jewel of Eidolan, not only stood but had fared better than any of the others with her rich soil and bountiful crops.
The four surviving cities reached accords. Nibbenar would build airships from the materials Vulcrad provided. Velaroth would craft the shimmersilk sails and powder for cannons and muskets made from Vulcrad’s steel. Glisteran would once again able to expand her fields and grow enough food to export to the other three cities in exchange for powder, weapons, and airships.
Despite the cities’ cooperation and trade agreements, not all was harmonious. Beneath the celebration and seemingly warm reunions there lay a mistrust. In order to prevent any one city from dominating another, they created a unified military force comprised of soldiers and sailors from all four cities, five if one counted the former refugees from Thuul, but no one did.
Within a few short years, the cities ceased looking like a mass of vagabonds squatting in ruins. The ability to trade raw materials once again created businesses, and some of those businesses produced the first real wealth and upper-class society in two centuries. It also created competition and bred envy and jealousy.
As so often happens, the taste of success stirred an insatiable hunger for more wealth and power. Just as with the highlords’ reign, there grew divisions among the classes if a bit more subtle. The ruling class eyed each other with covetous hearts and harbored feelings of disdain for the lowborn while hiding their true feelings behind polite smiles, civil tongues, and ceramic masks.
Two hundred years ago, the lowborn fought a war for independence and to change the world into something better for all of mankind. In their attempt to do so, they nearly destroyed it only to find that while roles shifted, little ever truly changed.