Monday, January 01, 1990


This game is dedicated to all those who gave their lives on September 11, 2001, so that others could live. You are the true heroes.

Quote page

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
--John 1:5

Does the moon really possess such strange powers or is it all just lunacy?
--Godsmack, “Moon Baby”


Written and designed by Seth Ben-Ezra

Additional material by Mark Eddy

Thanks to Scarlet Jester for his assistance with system design

Playtesters: Crystal Ben-Ezra, Gabrielle Ben-Ezra, Seth Ben-Ezra, Caitlin Coyne, Ron Edwards, Jens Fehn, Adiel Gardner, Joshua Gardner, Bernd Haberstumpf, Jörg John, Katrin Kockrow, Jürgen Mayer, Ralph Mazza, Jeremy McCabe, Elizabeth Otulokowski, Tom Otulokowski, Jason Petrini, Matt Weinberg

Clock Face graphics done by Raven Daegmorgan

"Blood Moon Rising" done by Andy Tharp

"Digger Paladin" done by Jasper Polane

"Uriel and houns" done by Jonathan Walton

Character sheet created by Ben Morgan


[Chapter 1]
(Forward to next section: Basic Concepts)
(Forward to next chapter: In the Beginning...)

Welcome to Legends of Alyria, a game of imagination set in the dark technofantasy world of Alyria. Legends of Alyria is a type of game normally called a roleplaying game (or RPG). Ironically, attempts to define roleplaying games usually fail. There are so many different ways to play and reasons that people enjoy these games that crafting a definition that includes them all is a challenge beyond the scope of this introduction. Besides, you didn't come here to read a long, dry dissertation about the history and taxonomy of roleplaying games. You want to play! So, as you read the definition and descriptions given later, remember that these are only the answers that apply to this game.

At the same time, those of you who are veteran roleplayers should take care to read this chapter. Legends of Alyria is played quite a bit differently from many other roleplaying games, and you will better appreciate the game if you understand its underlying assumptions.

(Forward to next section: Basic Concepts)
(Forward to next chapter: In the Beginning...)

Basic Concepts

[Chapter 1]
(Back to Introduction)
(Forward to A Word on Theme and Mood)
(Forward to In the Beginning...)

What is Legends of Alyria about? It is about creating stories as a group. Together you and your fellow players will be crafting the legends of Alyria. Together you will create the heroes and the villains. Together you will see them struggle, watch them rise or fall, see them triumph or forever be destroyed. Not all of these legends will be epic in scale, but each one will be important, because it is important to you. There are no winners or losers in Legends of Alyria. There are only players, and a game is successful when everyone present has enjoyed the legend that was made.

You will craft this story by building a storymap with your fellow players and then taking on the role of one or more characters in that storymap. The process of building a storymap will provide you with all the characters for your legend as well as their context and relationships. This process leads to substantively different play than many other roleplaying games, where characters are all assumed to be on the same side. Not so in Legends of Alyria! Rather, both protagonists and antagonists are run by the players. In one legend, you may be the simple farmer, rallying the final defense of his village. In another legend, you may be the corrupt Keeper, twisting your religion to gain more power for yourself. In yet another legend, you may be the toy maker, cursed by a magic bag to create toys that kill. All can be played by players; none are off-limits.

Frequently, one of the players will take on the role of the Narrator. The Narrator is responsible to keep the game on track. He will organize play, run any characters that the other players do not wish to play, and maintain the pace and tempo of the game. Depending on the group, the Narrator role can be a permanent job, or different people can take on the role of the Narrator as the legend progresses.

The game is played out in the mind, using spoken descriptions. You will never see the rolling waves of clouds washing on the shore of the Sea of Mist. You will never stand in the black rain of the Citadel, hearing the thunderous crash of the bells of Kron. You will never face the horrifying face of a dragon or bow before a unicorn. And yet, through these words that I have written, you can see all of these in your mind’s eye. It is the same in the game. Each player describes what his character is doing, speaks his character’s words, and sometimes describes his character’s surroundings. Through these descriptions and verbal exchanges, the players participate in the legend being created.

Legends of Alyria is not a particularly rules-intensive game. However, there is one rule that is vital to the play of this game. Without understanding and agreeing to this rule, a group will not be able to play and enjoy Legends of Alyria. That rule is simply this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Legends of Alyria gives a lot of power to its players. In some ways, each player wields power comparable to a Game Master in most other roleplaying games. However, players were not given this power so that they can be selfish and focus on their own desires and goals. No, they were given this power in order to create great legends for the other players. In order to be a good player in Legends of Alyria, you must be willing to put aside your own concerns and desires and play to those of your fellow players. Looking for a gripping combat scene but everyone else is getting bored? Move on. Ready to launch into a memorable soliloquy but no one else cares? Drop it. Someone else in the spotlight? Let him keep it. Legends of Alyria relies on the maturity and cooperation of the players in creating their legend. It would be a simple matter for one selfish player to destroy hours of enjoyment for everyone. If you are willing to look to others’ interests, rather than your own, you have the makings of a great Legends of Alyria player.

(Forward to A Word on Theme and Mood)
(Forward to In the Beginning...)

A Word on Theme and Mood

[Chapter 1]
(Back to Introduction)
(Back to Basic Concepts)
(Forward to In the Beginning...)

Legends of Alyria is a big game, and getting a handle on it could be difficult. Many players may get to the end of these rules and ask, “Where do I get started?” Hopefully, this section will help you to understand this game in the right light, so that you will instead be asking, “When can I get started?”

Legends of Alyria is designed in the tradition of classic fantasy, and as such it is focused very narrowly on stories revolving around the conflict between Good and Evil. Legends of Alyria assumes that both Good and Evil can be objectively determined, although the situation may make this determination difficult. Legends of Alyria also assumes that the moral decisions that the characters make are the most important decisions in the legend, and, as such, they are given the most attention. At the same time, Legends of Alyria also assumes that every person is a mix of good and evil traits and that the struggle can be internal just as easily as it can be external. So, as you read about Alyria, view it through a moral lens, and build your legends accordingly.

Legends of Alyria also assumes a certain mood that could perhaps be phrased as “optimistic melancholy”. The mood of the game tends to be very introverted. Alyria is not as much about bulging muscles and furious action as it is about hard choices and quiet heroism. Also the setting itself is melancholy. There are flashes of brilliant hope and beauty, but so often these are obscured by the drifting mist. So, as you read about Alyria, view it through a melancholic lens, and build your legends accordingly.

Legends of Alyria assumes the existence and realities of true heroes. However, Legends of Alyria defines heroism first and foremost as sacrifice. A hero in Legends of Alyria is not the mighty warrior who slays a thousand foes by the might of his arm. Rather, he is the man who willingly yields to a shameful, agonizing death so that others might live. So, as you read about Alyria, view it through a heroic lens, and build your legends accordingly.

Finally, Legends of Alyria assumes that the creativity of the play group is paramount, not the creativity of the designer. Therefore many questions are left open for interpretation by you, the player. Where did the Outsiders come from? Where did the dragons come from? Are there other survivors from the original colony? What exactly is possible with Keeper tech? Legends of Alyria offers suggestions, but the answers are up to you. Moreover, there are many “blank areas” in Alyria that are yours to fill in as you like. Legends of Alyria provides inspiration, but the canvas is yours to paint. Once this game enters your hands, the world of Alyria becomes your playground. There are no hidden storylines, no overarching metaplot, no complex history to be memorized and implemented. The world is yours to use as you see fit. So, as you read about Alyria, remember that, above all else, it is your world.

And build your legends accordingly.

(Forward to In the Beginning...)

In The Beginning...

[Chapter 2]
(Back to Introduction)
(Back to A Word on Theme and Mood)
(Forward to The Sea of Mist)

Legend speaks of another world, far from the shores of Alyria. Perhaps it was another planet. Perhaps it was Heaven itself. There the Progenitors lived in peace and harmony. But it was not fated to last. For the Outsiders rose up against the Progenitors and cast them from their home in the vault of the sky. Here, the legends conflict—some of the stories claim that the Outsiders descended upon them from the vast emptiness of space, but darker legends claim that the Progenitors delved into forbidden lore and released the dark menace. Whatever the source of these terrifying beings, the Outsiders drove out the Progenitors, forcing them to flee across the vault of Heaven to hide from their enemy.

Some of the Progenitors found this world: the world of Alyria. When they arrived, Alyria was formless and void. The air was not breatheable, and the land was desolate. Yet the Progenitors were not dismayed, for they brought with them many instruments of power. The Progenitors delved deep into the earth and constructed machines of great might to shape the world to their desires. To control these machines they built a great computer named Pheric. Many of the Progenitors operated this computer, maintained it and supervised its terraforming activity.

Slowly the land was tamed. The atmosphere became breathable. The violent storms that battered the land were tamed, bringing life and rain instead of destruction. Soon forests and grassy plains spread across the land. Where once the newcomers clustered in massive concrete bunkers or arcologies, now they built villages and cities, exulting in the wonder of the world which they had built. Yes, the raw, unfiltered atmosphere remained poisonous to them, held only at bay by Pheric and its terraforming machines—yet within the sphere of Pheric’s control, all was calm and peaceful.

The Progenitors built a culture of life and peace. Knowledge increased as scholars gathered into schools and built universities. Beauty was honored, and the cities were filled with trees and blooming flowers. No war was fought, as each man cared for his neighbor. The Progenitor culture reached its height with the construction of Kryshana. Once this city had been a harsh, sealed environment dome, with functional architecture. Now Kryshana was transformed into a beautiful city. Shade trees lined its avenues, where the scholar could walk, lost in thought, and young, carefree lovers strolled. Golden buildings rose towards the sky, welcoming the sun with upraised heads. And overhead arched the crystalline dome of Kryshana. No longer necessary, the dome was retained as an object of beauty and a monument to the past. Many were the poems written of this glittering gem of the Progenitors. Of all their creations, surely Kryshana was their greatest. It was a city of light, of beauty, of justice, of goodness, of truth.

And it is for these reasons that it was shattered.

No one understands the true nature of the dragons. Some state that they were the oldest lifeform native to Alyria and that the coming of the Progenitors disturbed their slumber. Others claim that the dragons are the darkest traits of mankind given physical form. Still others mutter that the dragons are demons, released from Hell before the proper time. Perhaps they are all correct. For in those joyous days, the dragons awoke. From their dwelling place deep in the Sea of Mist on the planet’s true surface, they felt the arrival of the Progenitors and hated them. For the dragons do not feed on flesh and blood but on the hatred, fear, and pain of others. The gentle reign of the Progenitors did not provide sufficient sustenance for them. So they began to weave their dark schemes to bring about the downfall of the Progenitors. It was far too easy.

For no man can be truly good, and even in this time of light and joy, darkness yet gnawed at men’s hearts. Some sought more power than their station permitted. Some wished more riches or land and grumbled in discontent. Others, it must be said, simply reveled in the thought of bloodshed or pain caused to another. The dragons could sense the darkness in these men’s heart. Appearing to them in their dreams, the dragons promised to fulfill their dark desires. Power to the power-hungry. Wealth to the greedy. Pain to the sadistic. And so it was, as the Progenitors’ golden age spread over the land, a dark force arose to oppose it. The cancer of the dragon cultists spread throughout the land, and when the moment was right, they struck.

A thousand thousand pages of agony and woe would not suffice to tell the tale of those days. Across the continent, the dragon cultists launched one coordinated attack, knocking out communication stations, destroying electrical generators, disabling terraforming processors, and disrupting roads and transportation. Resistance was weak at best. During the long ages of peace, the Progenitors had largely forgotten the harsh arts of war. So the dragon cultists had their way. In Kryshana, a worse desecration was performed. Cultists discovered the biological weaponry of the ancients that had been sealed away and detonated a bomb filled with ripper plague in the streets of the city. The trees withered, and the people began to die, ravaged by the terrible disease. Winds spread the plague far and wide. And then the dragons themselves attacked. Thousands poured from the Sea of Mist, ravaging and slaughtering. It is said that the sky rained fire and blood in those days. Men killed their loved ones before killing themselves, trying to spare them the horror of the ripper plague. Cultists mad with blood lust, swarmed through the ruins, raping and slaughtering, destroying and desecrating while overhead the dragons themselves hurled fire and drank deep of the carnage. The forests burned. The cities convulsed. And in the shattered ruins of the dome of Kryshana, a few survivors prayed for death. Legend claims that the crystal rain of shattered glass in Kryshana sounded like weeping as the city mourned her lost children and her own death.

It was not a war. It was not a conquest. It was a rape. The Rape of Alyria.

In the mountains, the scientists that tended Pheric saw what was happening. They saw their world being destroyed around them. Yet they knew that if there was to be any chance of victory, any chance of rebuilding, Pheric must survive. They made their difficult choice. Gathering as many refugees as possible, they retreated to their subterranean strongholds and sealed the entrances with explosives.

Yet not all was lost. The Progenitors still maintained their military force, ever vigilant for an attack from the stars. The stunning surprise attack destroyed much of their ability to communicate, yet here and there small units of troops resisted. Many were overrun. Yet some were successful in pushing back the cultists hordes. Many soldiers rallied to Kryshana, where the five supreme commanders of the armed forces personally led the defense of the city. For three long days battle raged in the streets of Kryshana. Bodies smouldered in the streets as howling lunatics raved in the burning ruins of the parks, their minds shattered by what they had seen. One by one the defenders died. Slowly they were pushed back. Slowly they were slaughtered.

And then the Lord of Pain arrived to take personal charge of the fight. If any could be called the leader of the dragons, it would be him. His mere presence was overwhelming. Men fled screaming as he swooped upon them, tearing them apart. But one man did not run. One man did not flee. As the Lord of Pain bore down upon him, he held his ground, waiting. And as the huge dragon bit him in half at the waist, he released the fusion grenade that he held. The explosion shattered the Lord of Pain.
Without their leader, the dragons were disorganized and confused, bereft of will and focus. Screaming with rage, they retreated into the Sea of Mist. Without the dragons, the cultists faltered in their attack. The defenders were able to rally. The cultists were cut down in droves. Soon they were in mass retreat, seeking refuge in the forests and hills of the wilderness.

But what remained to the survivors? The colony was shattered. Communication between cities was severed. Kryshana lay in smoking ruins. The dragons had been driven off, but their goal seemed to have been achieved.

The five generals took charge. They knew that no one could be spared to discover the fate of the rest of the colony. They would have to survive on their own. The generals made some difficult decisions. Kryshana would remain under martial law for the duration of the emergency. All food and critical supplies would be under military jurisdiction. Hoarding would be punishable by death. Every man would be required to perform part-time military service. Anyone demonstrating symptoms of the ripper plague would be summarily executed to prevent the disease from spreading. One day, they hoped that these measures would not be necessary. One day, life would return to normal.

One thousand years have passed since the Rape. Under the rulership of the Five Noble Houses, the Citadel has risen from the ruins of Kryshana. Within its walls, men bow down to Pheric, the god of Iron and Thunder, and pay homage to the Keepers, priests of this fearful god. Where trees and gardens once grew, now there stand factories, clanking and hissing. In the streets, animated by Pheric’s divine power, the Restored dead walk again. Above the city hangs the Web, a city within a city, a refuge for the criminal, the outcast, the Misbegotten, the Blessed. Mistships once again sail on the Sea of Mist, seeking new lands and new discoveries. The Citadel once again puts forth its might.

But all is not well in the world of Alyria. Far to the east, another nation has arisen. Tales speak of the Ark, where all the people wear masks to hide their faces and have no names. Monsters roam the wilderness, ravaging isolated villages and destroying trade caravans. Dragon cultists still worship in dark and hidden places and infiltrate the halls of power, seeking to return their masters to the surface. A schism has torn apart the Keeper faith, turning brother against brother and threatening to reveal the true nature of their god. The world is balanced on a knife’s edge.

And one night as the Dragon Winds howled through the Citadel, a new moon rose above the horizon. A red moon. A blood moon. And as it passed through the sky, a rain like blood fell upon the land, and those that saw it wept. For the sign was clear. The ancient enemy from the stars had discovered them. The Outsiders had returned.

Welcome to the world of Alyria.

(Forward to The Sea of Mist)

The Sea of Mist

[Chapter 2]
(Back to In The Beginning...)
(Forward to The Citadel)

It begins with the sea. Standing on the shore, you find yourself surrounded by the mist. It ebbs and flows before you, washing like waves crashing on some terrestrial shore. Yet it is unlike any ocean that you have ever seen before. There is no roar of the surf, no seagull’s cry. All is silent. All is still. If you are very quiet, you can faintly hear the distant rumble of thunder in the depths of the Sea of Mist. An occasional flash of lightning illuminates the swirling mist, but for just a moment.

It is not always like this. Sometimes furious storms hurl themselves from the Sea to batter the land. Then lightning and thunder rage throughout the sky, and the rain lashes against all who would stand before it. And the wind… The wind screams its rage and bellows its anger as the storm’s blast pummels the land. Then no one is safe. Those on the land take refuge, and the sailor trapped at sea begs for mercy from the uncaring elements.

Yes, sailors. For wherever there is a Sea there will be those that sail it.

Giant mist ships voyage across the surface of the deep. Some bring trade goods to the Citadel from an outlying province. Others carry soldiers to war. And some turn their bow towards the unknown, sailing, sailing, sailing away, seeking adventure. Sometimes, they even return.

Little is known of the Sea of Mist, and questions and rumors abound. It is said that the dragons live beneath the surface of the Sea of Mist, still scheming and plotting to regain the world that they have lost. It is said that other strange creatures roam the Sea, creatures made from cloud. It is said that sailors go mad on their voyages, their minds destroyed by the swirling, swirling, swirling of the mist. It is said that other lands await the conquest, that the world is so much bigger than believed. It is said that the ocean opens its arms wide to welcome sailors to its misty embrace.

So much is said, so much is believed. And yet, in the face of the awesome, stunning reality of it all, the questions halt, the answers cease clamoring, and you are left in stunned amazement, lost in the wonder and the fury.

(Forward to The Citadel)

The Citadel

(Back to In The Beginning...)
(Back to The Sea of Mist)
(Forward to The Commoners)
(Forward to The Web)

Somewhere on the western coast of Alyria, between the Sea and the mountains, lies the Citadel. Once a monument to knowledge, now it is filled with the detritus of broken dreams and vain promise. Once dedicated to beauty, now it is an iron fortress filled with ruined buildings. Once devoted to righteousness, now it is a nation of oppression, a place where unwanted refuse dangles from makeshift shelters over the darkened city streets. Once a haven of light, now it is a city of darkness, a place where the dead walk the streets, reanimated by the power of a harsh god.

It always seems to be raining in the Citadel. Storms sweep off the Sea of Mist with frightening regularity, hammering the city with an iron rain. Lightning flashes and crackles overhead, striking into the massive Arches that tower over the city or into one of the many vacant skyscrapers that stand guard throughout the Citadel.

Machines have taken over the Citadel, filling it with the sounds of clanking, grinding, and hissing. Gritty soot covers the buildings and the streets, residue from the smoke stacks that belch angry fumes at the sky. Some days the rain itself is black with soot. And every day, thousands of people arise and go to their stations, prepared to service the machines. Life runs to the tick of a metronome.

Yet it is this very Citadel that is the ruling power on Alyria. Its armies keep the peace for miles around and under its protection civilization has begun to struggle back to life. Even the lands beyond the Citadel’s rule experience some of the blessing of its iron rule.

The Citadel--The Commoners

For the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Citadel, life is harsh, cruel, and pointless. Grey-cloaked to keep off the rain, faces wrapped in scarves to keep out the grit, they trudge through life, empty and dispirited. Many have never been outside the walls of the Citadel, and they will die in the shadow of these iron buildings.

Every day hundreds die. Some are killed in accidents in the factories. Others are slaughtered by ill-tempered Noble Born for failing to bow quickly enough to show proper respect. Still others die from the polluted air, coughing until their lungs bleed. They are cattle, and they are slaughtered like cattle.

Yet there are those who refuse to surrender to their fate. Among the commoners, many revolutionary causes are stirring. Some fight to free the Restored or legitimize the Misbegotten. Others seek to improve working conditions. Still others murmur of revolt against the Noble Houses. Both the militia and the warriors of the Noble Houses have been kept quite busy putting down these threats. Who knows? One day the common people may awaken with a new resolve and discover that they are strong.

The Citadel--The Merchants

As the Citadel has grown more prosperous, there have been those among the commoners who have managed to take advantage of the changing times. They have discovered the profit that can be earned by fulfilling the needs and desires of the rich.

And so, a new merchant class is emerging in the Citadel. Compared to the common rabble that throngs the streets, even the poorest of the rising middle-class is well off. Many merchants have been accepted into noble society. Indeed, some Noble-born have borrowed large amounts of money to these merchants, leaving them indebted to these commoners. A few of the wealthiest merchants have estates that rival the Noble Houses. These merchants wield much power.

And yet, they are still not nobility. They must still bow their heads to the Noble-born that pass them by in the streets, and their lives are still forfeit if they disobey. Most accept their lot in life, working hard to maintain the position that they have earned. However, mutters of discontent rumble through the marketplaces and guildhalls of the Citadel. The winds of change are blowing, and the storm may soon break over the Noble Houses.

The Citadel--The Noble Houses

To be born into a Noble House is to be born a warrior. Like the knights and samurai of ancient legend, the Noble-born are trained to wage the wars of their lord and to serve his every desire. Each Noble House has different traditions that have evolved over time, yet there are some common threads.

The Noble-born can be identified by their long braids. The women have many braids, each one entwined with gold or copper chain. On the other hand, the men have a single braid that they never cut. These braids are a symbol of their willingness to die for their lord. For a Noble-born to shave off his braid is an act of unthinkable rebellion. One story tells of a Noble-born warrior who wished to protest one of his lord’s decisions. The warrior entered the throne room of his lord and, with his own sword, cut off the braid and threw it at his lord’s feet. The story does not tell of the fate of this warrior.

Although the Noble-born are trained to obedience and service, they also expect similar treatment from those beneath them on the social ladder. Peasants and members of the rising merchant class are expected to show all respect to the Noble-born and to obey any orders given to them without question. Those that fail to do so will find themselves being challenged to a duel of honor, an acceptable method of settling such matters. Such a contest invariably ends in the commoner’s death. Sometimes, a Noble-born is not willing to wait until the duel and takes matters into his own hands. Rare is the day that sees no commoner blood spilled by a Noble-born’s sword.

Initiation: A Tale of Alyria

The door slid open with a crash. Echoes reverberated off the unseen walls and ceiling. Darkness clung to the pillars in the large hall, only dispelled by a single patch of light resting on a golden altar to Pheric at the far end of the hall. Nothing else could be seen.

The novice took a trembling breath. This was it. After so much training and work, so much sacrifice and agony, all that remained was his Initiation. Shaking a bit, he stepped into the hall. His bare feet slapped quietly against the metal floor. A chill breeze raised goose bumps on his exposed flesh. "Remember the ritual,” he muttered to himself. "Remember the ritual." Taking another breath, he began to stride toward the altar. "Hold up your head,” he told himself. "You are about to become a member of the Five Hundred. Act like it!" Slowly he gathered his composure. By the time he reached the golden altar, his head was held high and his visage was proud. He was ready.

A voice boomed from the shadows. "Who comes to join the ranks of the Five Hundred?"

The novice responded as required, "I am Shirita, and I come to join the Five Hundred."

The voice boomed again, "To join the Five Hundred requires that you leave everything behind. Your name is forfeit. Your dignity is forfeit. Your life is forfeit. Are you willing to make this sacrifice?"

"I am."

A shape flowed from the shadows. The novice could see that it was a spiculum of the Five Hundred, his quicksilver armor dully reflecting the dim light. Standing next to the novitate, he extruded a sword. "Novice,” the spiculum said, "you are stripped of your name." With a clean swipe, he cut off the braid reflecting the novice's noble birth. "You are stripped of your dignity." Shorn in two, the novice's loin cloth joined the braid on the floor, leaving him naked. "You are stripped of your very life." A bloody streak appeared on the novice's chest, deftly traced by the blade's keen edge. He did not even have time to wince before it was done.

Another shape emerged from the shadows. The High Lord strode into the light and stood in front of the altar, facing the novitate. "Nameless one, you aspire to a high calling. Since the birth of Alyria, the Five Hundred have stood watch over its children, guarding against both dragon and Outsider. Some even trace our lineage back to the world of the Progenitors, who descended from heaven, bringing with them the mighty Pheric (blessed be)." The novice instinctively murmured, "Blessed be" and was shocked to hear the same phrase murmured throughout the room. Despite its appearance, the room was quite full.

"Nameless one, it is time for you to take your final vows." One of the guards handed a golden chalice to the High Lord. "Hold out your right hand,” he commanded. The novice did as he was bid. The High Lord drew a dagger and sliced open the novice's hand. "Let the blood flow into the chalice,” he commanded. Then he did the same to his own hand. Silence filled the room, broken only by the patter of blood dripping into the chalice.

When the chalice was full, the High Lord handed it to the novice. "Drink,” he commanded. "It is the mingling of blood." The novice drank as he was commanded. The coppery, metallic tang nauseated him, but he managed a small sip. Taking the chalice from him, the High Lord also drank. Then he placed the chalice on the altar and picked up a small crystal vial.

The novice stared at the vial in awe. In it, something silver pulsated and writhed. It almost looked alive. The High Lord spoke. "Nameless one, this is the chrism of the Five Hundred. With it, you will be given the armor of the ancients and the power of the Progenitors will pulse in your veins. Kneel, and receive your chrism."

Closing his eyes, the novice knelt before the High Lord. Without another word, the High Lord poured the vial onto the novice.

He screamed.

He felt as though his very nerves were on fire. "It burns!" he cried. "It burns!" He could feel the silvery substance spreading over his body, burning as it went. It was in his eyes! It was in his nose! Penetrating his skin, setting his hair ablaze! Burning, burning, burning!

And with a jolt, it was over. The pain vanished and cool relief washed over his body. In shock, the novice opened his eyes. His skin had become quicksilver. Now he understood the secret of the Five Hundred. Their armor was a living part of them! He could feel its soothing chill surrounding him, protecting him, shielding him. He could feel his wounds closing as the armor worked its magic. Slowly, he stood.

“It is not fitting that one of the Five Hundred should be nameless,” intoned the High Lord. “Therefore, you shall receive your names. First, you shall receive your bearer name. When the Progenitors came from beyond the stars, many mighty warriors bestrode the land. This armor was first borne by PFC Robert DuLang. Upon his death, his burden was passed to another, and down through the ages his burden comes to you. Therefore your bearer name will be PFC Robert DuLang. Carry it well, for you carry his honor with you.”

The spiculum who stood next to the novice then spoke. “It falls to me to present to you your squad name. We who have stood by you in training have seen your tireless effort and endurance. Like a mighty oak you have weathered all that has been hurled at you and yet remained unbowed. Therefore, we give to you the squad name of Oak. Carry it well, for you carry our honor with you.”

With a gesture of invitation, the High Lord held out his hands. “Come; join us in the sharing of blood. Be bound to your new brother, Oak.” One by one the spicula flowed from the shadows, embracing Oak and tasting of the chalice. Oak embraced each in turn, overwhelmed. These were his new brothers. Already the memories of his old life were fading. Tomorrow he would awaken as a spiculum of the Five Hundred, a true warrior.

The Citadel--The High Lords

Five High Lords rule the Citadel, each the supreme leader of a Noble House. These Noble Houses are the descendents of the original five military units that were stationed in the Citadel. Originally their rule was to be temporary. But as the struggle for survival after the Rape stretched on for years, and then decades, the people became accustomed to military rule. Military expediency begat military politics. The five generals became the first High Lords and founded their Noble Houses, passing their titles down to their descendents.

Each High Lord has control of a certain section of the Citadel, which he administers. The warriors of his household are responsible for maintaining the peace in his territory, and he is expected to extract taxes from those living in his territory. For all intents and purposes, each High Lord is supreme in his own territory.

However, many situations affect the Citadel as a whole. Therefore the High Lords meet as the High Council to decide such matters. Normally a Keeper sits on the Council as well, although he cannot vote. Each High Lord only gets one vote; none wields more power than any other. At least, this is the theory. In reality, many times throughout the Citadel’s history one High Lord has wielded enough influence to bend the entire Council to his will. The Council Chamber is in a neutral part of the Citadel, and, by tradition, each High Lord is only permitted a small honor guard. Traditionally, the Council Chamber is free from violence and bloodshed, but traditions are sometimes broken.

The Citadel--The Keepers

The Noble Houses are not the only power that shapes the Citadel. The Keepers also wield influence within the city of Iron.

From time immemorial there have been the Keepers, servants of Pheric (blessed be) and bearers of his words. The earliest Keepers served him at the Core, the first temple of the god of Iron and Thunder, carved by the Progenitors themselves. During the Rape, these Keepers sealed themselves into the Core that this most holy place might be preserved. Five generations passed while the Keepers waited for the surface to become safe. Finally they emerged into a changed world. This world knew nothing of the mighty Pheric (blessed be) or his servants. So the Keepers sent out missionaries to spread the message of Pheric (blessed be). The Keepers claim that these missionaries traveled the length and breadth of the land and that there is no place on all of Alyria that has not felt the tread of a faithful Keeper. Certainly they traveled far. Many never returned. Some were consumed by ravenous beasts. Others were martyred. Still others died from disease and infection. Still, more and more Keepers left the Core, wearing the metallic green of a mendicant preacher.

Some of these missionaries came upon what is now the Citadel. At this time, the Citadel was barely more than a shanty town built in the ruins of Kryshana. Much knowledge had been lost, and the inhabitants of the Citadel lived in squalor, barely eking out enough food from the earth to feed them. To them the Keepers brought a message of hope. The Keepers spoke of machines and gears, steam and iron, weapons and armor. Above all they spoke of the divine Essence of Pheric (blessed be) that makes light from nothing. The people were moved deeply, and the High Lords took notice. A meeting of the Council was convened, and the High Lords took urgent council with each other. Their course was clear.

The next day the High Lords announced that they were converting to this new religion. The Keepers would be welcomed into the city and given land to build a temple. Any who spoke against them would be put to death. The Keepers knew that this conversion was one born of necessity, not faith, and their response was hotly debated. Some of the Keepers wanted to wait for further evidence of true faith, but most of the Keepers were happy to be in a place that treated them like kings. The objecting Keepers left the Citadel to begin the long trip home. The rest remained and began building.

So it was that the Keepers built the Citadel. They fashioned its walls and forged its gates. They built factories and armories for the High Lords. But, most important of all, they built the Great Temple of Pheric. This huge building hulks in the center of the Citadel. Its iron buttresses are impregnable, keeping the world outside from entering in. Within the walls of the Temple, the sacred rites of Pheric are performed. Within these walls, the Keepers channel the sacred essence of Pheric to power the lights and machinery of the Citadel. And, rising from the center of the Temple, looming over the city, is the giant clock tower Kron. Every hour its huge bell tolls the time. It weighs on the city, laying on it the burden of time. The tolling of Kron oppresses, depresses, destroys. Under that constant barrage, even the mightiest must quail and submit to the ticking and the tolling of the clock.

Yet the Keepers miscalculated when they constructed the mighty Kron. For it is built with a twenty-four hour clock, while the Alyrian day has twenty-five hours. Therefore, every night, just before midnight, a Keeper climbs the 1331 stairs of the tower, chanting the secret Name of Pheric (blessed be) and carrying a lamp and an hour glass. At the stroke of midnight, he stops the clock and turns over the hour glass. Silence descends on the city. Every machine, every generator, every factory ceases to operate while Kron is still. All that can be heard is the demented screaming from the Howling Lands to the northeast. There, in that tiny room at the top of the tower, the Keeper waits, deep in prayer. When the hour has passed, he will restart the clock and descend the 1331 stairs, thankful that Pheric has restarted time. And the city breaths a sigh of relief.

It is said that the demons walk the night during this hour, trying to find Time and kill him. It is said that monsters roam the city streets during this hour, devouring those that they find. Only the brave and foolhardy venture into the dark of the Devil’s Hour.

Devil's Hour: A Tale of Alyria

1329....1330...1331.... The Keeper’s breath was heavy as he entered the meditation chamber atop the tower of Kron. He paused to catch his breath, a difficult task while trying to speak the True Name of Pheric. “3A....FF....57....32....AE....2A...,” he gasped. It was his first night to perform the Rite of Perpetual Vigilance. (As a novice he had nicknamed it the Rite of Thumb Twiddling, which had earned him a beating.) He clutched the oil lamp—no electricity for the Rite of Perpetual Vigilance—and the ritual hourglass. For the first time he took a closer look at the room. It was small and bare. A single window looked over the city. On the floor below it was a kneeler and a single lever. Two small shelves flanked the window. The Keeper knew what he had to do. Kneeling on the kneeler, he placed the lamp on the shelf on the left side of the window and the hourglass on the shelf on the right side. Then he made the sign of the Gear. “Pheric (blessed be), be pleased to preserve your people and your city through this hour.” As he finished praying, the bell of Kron sounded.

It was like nothing the young Keeper had experienced. The entire room shook and reverberated with the sound. Twelve times Kron spoke, and each time the Keeper shuddered. Then, suddenly, Kron was silent. The Keeper was so nervous that he almost forgot the next part of the rite. Whispering a prayer to Pheric, he pulled the lever.

Kron clanked to a halt. Looking from the window, he could see the lights going out across the city. The factories ground to a halt. Soon all was silent. Trembling slightly the Keeper reached out to the hourglass and turned it over. Fine black sand began running from the top half into the bottom half. The Keeper watched it eagerly. It would only be an hour. He groped in his robe for the Gear around his neck and began to pray the Cycle.

A noise interrupted him. It sounded like a scream. He jumped and looked out the window. The Weeping Moon had risen and was passing through the sky, shedding blood-red light and blood-red rain on the land. But the Keeper could see nothing. Again the scream. Now the Keeper knew what he was hearing. The Howling Lands. Home of the Restored who were too brain-dead to be useful, turned loose to wander the wild, forever mindless, forever moaning. The Keeper shuddered. What a fate.
The sand ran slowly. Several times the Keeper nearly fell asleep, his head on the windowsill. Each time he shook himself awake, berating himself for his lack of devotion. Just a few more minutes....

A drop of some liquid spattered on his head. Startled, he looked up and was spattered by another falling drop striking his forehead. With a cry he fell backwards. He landed in a most undignified position and scuttled away from the window. He wiped his forehead and his hand came away red. Tales from his boyhood returned. Demons walked the night during Devil’s Hour. What if one was on the roof, feasting on unholy food? Part of his mind was screaming, gibbering, wanting to do nothing more than flee. But his Keeper training reasserted itself. There are no such things as demons. The peasants tell such tales, but true men of faith do not believe such nonsense. Laughing in embarrassment at his reaction, he returned to the kneeler.

By the time the hourglass was finished, his eyes were heavy and bloodshot with the effort of remaining awake. Even now, he would need to be awake at five for Matins. He rushed through the last prayer, bowed, and grabbed the hourglass and lamp. “1331 steps between me and my bed,” he thought. Time to get started. 1.... 2.... 3.... 4.... 5.... “3A....FF....57....32....AE....2A,” he intoned as he marched down the stairs. He wiped his forehead on his sleeve. The red liquid was still there. He would definitely need to take a bath before Matins. His voice and lamp faded into the darkness as he continued down the stairs.

The Citadel--The Restored

Deep within the Keeper Temple, in its innermost sanctum, lie the Restoration Tanks, filled to brimming with the Water of Life. It is in this room that the Keepers perform the Rite of Restoration.

The Rite is the most sacred act of the Keeper religion. The Keepers claim to have received it from Pheric himself, although blasphemers whisper that the dragons seem to have had a hand in it as well. For the result of the Rite is nothing less than the Restoration of life to the dead.

The Rite is quite simple. The body is placed into one of the Restoration Tanks, and a power cable is attached to fill the Tank with the essence of Pheric himself. One of the Keepers throws a switch and the Tank is ablaze with light. Then, with a ringing shriek, the body returns to life. The Keepers exult in that shriek, claiming that it is the dragons, enraged that a soul has escaped them. Heretics proclaim that it is rather the shriek of the Restored himself, returned to life.

The Restored are everywhere in the Citadel. They are used for so many of the dangerous menial tasks that once were performed by the poorest residents. Restored cleaning crews wander the Citadel, cleansing the streets of litter and offal dumped from the surrounding buildings and the Web that hangs overhead. Restored perform the simplest of jobs in the power plants and factories that fill the Citadel. Entire cadres of servants wait hand and foot on the wealthy families of the Citadel. They have many other uses as well. Restored troops are herded into combat, expendables with truly nothing to lose. Restored crews man mist ships sailing far away across the Sea of Mist. They no longer breathe and so do not need the clumsy breathing equipment required by mere mortals.

Not everyone can be Restored, though. The body must be in good condition upon death, something that does not always happen in this violent world. Moreover, younger bodies are preferred. The Restoration repairs much of the damage caused by aging, but still better are those bodies that have never aged at all. Frequently capital prisoners are used for the Restoration. The Keepers claim that all receive a fair trial. Some citizens actually believe them. However, there is an even more basic reason why there are not more Restored.

After the Ritual of Restoration is performed, the new Restored is fitted with a special implant that keeps it calm and docile. Also, when activated with certain keywords, it will allow verbal programming of the Restored. Anyone with the proper knowledge can control one of these poor creatures. Usually the master of a Restored selects the keywords, although it is said that the Keepers implant their own secret words as well.

Those implants are all that ensure that the Restored do not riot in the streets of the Citadel. Unfortunately, no one remembers how to make those implants anymore. One of these days, the Keepers will run out of implants, and who knows what will happen then? Therefore, whenever a Restored becomes non-functional, the first thing that the Keepers do is recover the implant. Then, if the body is still in good enough condition, the Ritual of Restoration is performed again.

Yes, a body can be Restored multiple times. This is often done, especially when the Restored has been useful or knowledgeable in the past. He is placed in the Restoration vats once again and is once again drawn forth to an existence of torment. However, there is a fatal flaw in the Restoration. It cannot truly restore the brain. Even as the bodily functions are restored, subtle decay in the brain slowly degrades the mental capacity of the Restored. The damage slowly spreads, even over the course of several Restorations, until all that is left is a gibbering wreck, useless for anything.

What is done with these mindless Restored? The Keepers refuse to destroy them. They claim that the essence of Pheric has entered them and that to destroy them would be sacrilegious. Instead, they remove the implants from worn-out Restored and release them to a place outside the Citadel to roam mindlessly until they die a final death. Men call them the Howling Lands because of the mindless howling from the hundreds of zombie-like Restored that wander the land. In the dark of night, during the Devil’s Hour, when the machines of the Citadel cease and the voice of Kron is still, the sound of howling drifts from the northeast into the Citadel. It is a lost, lonely sound, like the dying wordless cry of a damned soul. Then the people of the Citadel huddle in their houses, afraid of what the darkness might bring.

And right they are to fear, for not all Restored are under control. Some have been freed from the tyranny of the implant. Not everyone in the Citadel loves the use of Restored. Some fear that their livelihood may be at stake from the free labor of the Restored. Others feel that it is their religious duty to help the enslaved and oppressed. Still others seek to destroy the Citadel by destabilizing it from within. Whatever the reason, many seek out Restored and remove their implants. Some Restored even have the force and strength of will to remove their own implants, although this is very rare.

What these rogue Restored do is anyone’s guess. Some probably flee into the Web, where the strange and outcast are commonplace. Others flee into the wilderness to make their own way in a cold and hostile world. Some even spin stories of an island in the Sea of Mist called the Isle of Refuge, where all who seek asylum from the Citadel’s purges are welcome. The stories say that rogue Restored, Misbegotten, Blessed, and many others live there together in peace. But there are many stories, and if this is true or not, none can say.

The Web

The dome above the Citadel is long destroyed; even the shards are gone. Yet the four arched beams that once supported it still remain, jutting from the ground like a broken ribcage. Between these supports, suspended in the middle of the sky, hangs the Web. It is a city within a city, a last refuge of broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Life is hard in the Citadel, and many wish to flee. However, for most, the wilderness holds only the promise of certain death. Ravaging bands of Misbegotten, rogue Blessed, or even such mundane threats as bandits await those that venture into the wilderness. Some claim that a vast sewer system underlies the Citadel, connecting the different sectors of the city and even encapsulating some small part of fallen Kryshana. Yet no reliable witness has ever seen an entrance to this system, nor would most fugitives from the Citadel trust their lives to the underground. For them, the only way to escape is up.

No one remembers who first climbed the Archways to build a home. The four First Families of the Web each claim to have been the first, but they could have just as easily been interlopers that wandered into the Web later. Regardless of who is right, once the first man climbed the Archways, more followed, building shanties and shacks right onto the Archway. Soon there was no more space, but the stream of refugees remained constant. So the new arrivals began to build their homes by tying them with rope or wire to the houses that were already built. Slowly the Web spread over the skies of the Citadel, gradually taking on an identity of its own.

The Web is partly responsible for the poor living conditions in the Citadel. After all, the several thousand inhabitants of the Web need to eat and drink, just like anyone else. And so they steal. Raiding parties from the Web slip down into the Citadel, grabbing whatever they can carry. Sometimes they even have the audacity to sell their wares in the Citadel marketplace, selling back to the city what they first stole from it. Moreover, the Web-dwellers often dump their sewage into the city below. Restored work crews are kept busy cleaning the streets, and many a Citadel dweller has been caught in a sudden downpour that is less than desirable.

Because of this, the Noble-born try to prevent their residences from being Webbed over. Guards shoot fire arrows from the tops of buildings into the Web. Some even lead patrols into the Web itself, although few return. It is a balance of terror. The Noble-born could smash the Web altogether, but at tremendous cost. So, for the most part, they try to keep their own homes clear and tolerate its existence.
There are many entrances to the Web. Usually these entrances are in buildings that are tall enough to reach into the Web. Just walk up a long flight of stairs and walk out onto the roof. Sometimes, when the building is too short, a rope or ladder is lowered from the Web. Sometimes, when the building is tall, an enterprising entrepreneur will operate an electric elevator, hauling passengers and freight up and down the building...for a charge, of course. These entrances are nominally secret, but it is amazing how many of the common folk know precisely where these entrances are. It is not precisely illegal to use them, but then again there are many actions that are not precisely illegal that will still draw the wrath of the Noble-born. Sometimes, one of the Noble Lords will order the closing of an entrance by force, but for every entrance that is closed, two more spring up in its place. It is a hopeless battle.

There is a certain irony to the society that developed in the Web. On the one hand, the Web is much more accepting than the Citadel. The Blessed and Misbegotten are welcome in the Web. Rogue Restored walk alongside normal humans on the suspended walkways and “streets” of the Web. Yet, in its own way, the Web is as brutal as the Citadel.

There is no one ruling power in the Web. Instead, the city is a patchwork of little gangs, each laying claim to its own territory. Oh, they might not all call themselves gangs. Some might call themselves “family” or a “survival cooperative”, but the intent is the same: mutual protection against aggressors. And there are plenty of aggressors in the Web. Conflict is endemic. Not a day goes by without another beating, another rape, another murder, all in the name of the gangs. However, these conflicts rarely erupt into outright warfare. After all, a gang needs to maintain good ties with the neighbors. Literally.

Consider the harsh reality of the situation. Unless a gang lives right next to an Archway, all their homes and other buildings are hanging in mid-air, supported only by their connections to the buildings around them. What if all the neighbors of a gang were to turn against it and cut the ties which connect the gang’s territory to theirs? It is a long fall to the city streets below. Therefore each gang makes sure that their ties are strong with their neighbors and seeks to sever the ties of rival gangs, weakening their position in the Web, both literally and figuratively, until one day the rival’s section of the Web finally gives way.

It is a horrifying thing to see someone take the Long Fall.

And so, the Web itself exists because of a balance of terror. Make too bold a move, disturb the equilibrium, rock the boat, and you and your family and friends could be taking the Long Fall. It is a pitiable existence. Everyday, each inhabitant of the Web walks on eggshells. Violence hangs in the air, coiled and ready to strike. Anyone could be the next victim. Anyone.

Except the lightning jacks. No one would dare touch a lightning jack.

The Web--The Lightning Jacks

The lightning jacks are the most blatant example of how the Web exists as a leech on the Citadel. As was mentioned previously, the Citadel has its own electric generators that operate under the control of the Keepers. In their eyes, electricity is the mystic power of Pheric himself, to be dispensed in accord with his wishes and desires. The faithful may receive a ration of power, but the heathen and outcast cannot.

The Web is filled with “heathen and outcast.” There is no way that the Keepers would provide electricity to the huddled masses of the Web. So the lightning jacks steal it for them. Under the dark of night, the lightning jacks creep from the Web to tap into the power cables that crisscross the Citadel, stealing electricity for the Web.

This is an incredibly dangerous job. First, the lightning jack takes the risks of working with the powerful electrical flows that course through these power cables. Many novice lightning jacks never return from their first raid, and there is always the chance, even for the veterans, that this time they will slip. But even for the successful lightning jack, the danger is not over. Stealing electricity is very illegal, and the Noble-born warriors are empowered to kill such thieves on sight. But even that is a mercy compared to the fate that would await him if the Keepers caught him. There are whispered rumors of the ancient torture chambers beneath the Keeper Temple. The truth is even more horrifying.

The lightning jacks know the risks. So why do it? It is quite simple. Among the people of the Web, a lightning jack is sacrosanct. No one touches a lightning jack. No one. All the gangs of the Web would rise as one against anyone who would dare harass or harm a lightning jack. There have been gang brawls that have paused to allow a lightning jack to pass unharmed. It is a dangerous job, but it has its rewards.

The Misbegotten

The ripper plague that ravaged Alyria as part of the Rape had dire consequences. Many of its victims were twisted by the plague in hideous ways. Some grew extra limbs. Others devolved into mindless beasts. Still others were mutilated in ways too horrible to describe. These roamed the wilderness and barren streets as the plague fires burned and the dragons wreaked havoc across the land.

Slowly they were pushed back.

Slowly they were destroyed or hounded into waste areas.

When the dragons were forced back, many thought that the threat was gone. Then the first malformed child was born. Something in the genetic code of the survivors had been injured or broken. While so many bore healthy children, a few bore freaks. The panic began. So often the children were abandoned, exposed to the elements. Other times mobs formed to force the parents to give up their misshapen child or bear the consequences. One village burned a family alive. They surrounded their house and threw on torches until it blazed. Someone stumbled out of the house, burning, begging, pleading, and they pushed him back into the house. The smoke of this ancient burning still rises.

This is the secret shame of so many on Alyria. The fear and hatred run deep. To this day the Misbegotten are banned from the Citadel upon pain of death. The High Lords demand it. The Keepers even require it. The streets still run red with the blood of the Misbegotten. That is why those who still retain their human faculties flock to the Web. Here they are welcome. Here they are accepted. Here they can retain a semblance of civilized living, without having to flee into the wilderness.

Oh yes, many Misbegotten live in the wilds outside the Citadel. Some live quietly, merely seeking to be left alone. But there are others. Misbegotten bandits raid villages, striking back at those who rejected them. Even worse are those that have lost their power of reasoning, becoming mere animals. Many stalk the night, running or loping or galloping, seeking man-flesh to eat or violence to assuage their terrible pain.

But is this not true of every man? For there are many who wear human faces that gaze at the world with bestial eyes, and some who walk as beasts who see with human eyes. Who is fit to judge such matters?

Icarus: A Tale of Alyria

I crouch in silence atop the tower, gazing out to sea. So many wives and mothers, gathered below, gaze with me, straining their eyes in hope for their husbands and sons. I gaze with eyes of death, seeing only the mist and dark.

Mother, why? Why did you inflict this pain on me?

Icarus she called me. Her little winged boy. Her pride and joy. Ha. (I spit off the tower.) Did she think that I didn't see the loathing in her eyes when she thought me asleep? Did she think that she could hide her disgust with the monster she had borne? Her smile, her laughter, all a mask. I could see the truth. It burned in her eyes.

Mother, why did you hate me so?

My wings flutter unconsciously as I think of my father. The great High Lord from the Noble House. (I spit again.) Just a one night stand, he claimed, that night when I confronted him. She had been nothing, I less than nothing. I struck him that night and fled, taking flight on angel's wings, the wings that forever mark me as Misbegotten, the twisted, the perverse, less than human.

What will you say to me now, my father? Shall a word escape your lips as I come to you with fire?

There! In the distance! I can see the mist ship entering the harbor. All the wives and mothers are aflutter now, down below me. They can almost see their husbands, their sons.

Are you watching tonight, Mother? Look! Here I am! Do you watch for your son? Turn your eyes to the sea, Mother. Your son also will be arriving soon.

"Do not fly too high, little Icarus!" she used to say to me. And so I did, to spite her. I soared in the clouds, danced with the lightning, flying higher and higher. And, like a moth to flame, I was drawn into the company of others, whom she hated. Freedom fighters, they called themselves. Rebels, the High Lords called them. Thieves. Murderers. I cared not. Their crimes did not concern me. Rather, I cared that they looked on me as an equal, not a monster. I cared that they hated the High Lords almost as much as I. That through them, one day I would strike a blow against everyone who hated me. That through them, I would have revenge.

Mother, you mocked me. Father, you scorned me. But you will see. Today, I soar higher than ever. Today, my wings carry me to victory. And shall I fall, Mother? Your little Icarus, burned by the sun? Yes, but in that moment, I shall not fall alone.

The mist ship is closer now. His banner flutters from the stern. The great High Lord, my father, is indeed aboard. My friends did not understand why I volunteered for this mission, why I would not allow anyone but myself to do the deed. True, the High Lord was an evil oppressor, but they could not understand the depths of my passion. How to explain fifteen years of pain, of scorn, of mockery, all because of this man? I check my belt. The stolen Keeper device is there, fiery death held in a small metal sphere. The time has come. I launch out into space.

Father! I am coming! You forced me into this twisted life. It is only fitting that I steal from you the perfect life that you love. They may call me a twisted Misbegotten bastard, but you deserve this name oh so much more than I.

I glide. I soar. I howl in anticipation. The float bag of the mist ship is before me. And, behold, my father stands upon the deck!

I reach to my belt.

He looks up at me.

He knows. He knows! And the terror and the pleading in his eyes suddenly make it all worthwhile.

I press the button.

Light. Heat.

Mother, look! I touched the sun! I flew so high I touched the sun! Can you see me? Can you see me?

And like Icarus I burn.

And like Icarus I fall...

The Blessed

The Misbegotten were not the only beings produced by the rape. Also there are the Blessed. And what does it mean to be one of the Blessed?

Imagine that, in the back of everyone’s mind, there is a small door. And imagine that, behind this door, is a raging torrent of pure power. For most people, that door stays locked for their entire lives. However, in one of the Blessed, the lock is weakened and eventually the door bursts open and the power surges forth. Perhaps it is a moment of great stress, such as being threatened by a bully or accidentally falling from a tree. Whatever the cause, the Blessing bursts forth. The bully is pulverized. The fall is halted abruptly. The Blessed has used his Blessing for the first time.

It is never this easy again. Now that the door to this power has been opened, the Blessed must make sure that the door stays closed unless he actually wants to let the Blessing out. This is a long, tiring struggle, requiring intense mental discipline. Many fail to control the Blessing and it takes its toll. There have been tales of Blessed being overwhelmed by their Blessing and literally exploding under the stress. An entire village was destroyed in this way once. Even under less extreme circumstances, the Blessed finds bits of power leaking out, guided only by his unconscious mind. In its own way, this can be even more dangerous.

Imagine what it would be like. Every minute of every day, this torrent of power is beating at that door, and it is all that you can do to keep it shut. Sometimes, sometimes, you want to let a little out. But when you ease the door open just a crack, you must still hold it against the torrent that strives to burst through. Sometimes, the door blows wide open. Sometimes it can never be closed.

That is what the Blessing is like.

The mental toll is hard. The physical toll is worse. As the raw power of change courses through the Blessed’s body, he too is changed and twisted. Rarely is this for the better. The Blessed speak of the Marks of the Blessing. Some Blessed have grown extra limbs, sprouted extra eyes, or had their bones dissolve. Eventually the Blessed will be bear too many Marks, and the physical strain will overcome him. It is a terrifying fate.

Is it any wonder that the Blessed are outcast, forced from hearth and home to wander? Such a combination of power and horror is too much for most to understand. And we hate that which we do not understand. For their part, the Blessed rarely seek trouble. Most strive to hide their natures, wearing robes or loose clothing to hide their deformities, or they seek refuge in the few communities that tolerate their presence, such as the Web. Yet few find the peace that they so desperately desire.

Others choose a different path. They know that they have few years left to them, and so they embrace their power. Some choose to walk the path of the outcast, aiding those who will accept their help. Others choose the path of the warlord and sorcerer, gathering power to carve out petty kingdoms in the wilderness or to call down vengeance upon their foes.

Yet, for all this power, none of them can escape their fate.

Writ on Water: A Tale of Alyria

A flame flared in the darkness of the small hut. The paper caught and burned. “I was born twenty years ago today…” The words flamed and vanished. Another failure. He fell back onto the bed, wheezing. The gelatinous ruin of his body quivered with the effort. Two pseudopods writhed, while the single tentacle holding the pen quivered. His eyestalks drooped in despair and fatigue. Outside, the wind hummed and whispered through the tangles of the Web, bringing with it a scent of death.

Death. He would be here soon. Tonight. He was sure of it. In an hour or two the yawning abyss would swallow him forever. Desperate, he began again.

“This is the life that I have lived,” he scribbled. “Now I die. Once I was a happy human being, just like you. Now I am a monster, twisted by the hideous gift that was given to me. My Blessing was a curse to myself and those around me. No one loves me. No one even wants to see me.”

It was true, he thought. Somewhere on his body, a pustule broke. A twinge of pain shuddered through him, as he smelled the sickly scent of decay waft through the small room. Who would see me now? Picking up his pen, he continued. “All I ever wanted was for someone to love me, to make the demons go away. Now I am left alone to face the night.”

Cursing in frustration, he set the pages ablaze. That would not do at all! Too pitiful. Too weak. This was not how he wanted the world to remember him. He wanted them to remember the strong man that he had been, not the pus-filled formless mass that he had become.

Coughing, he oozed out of the bed and inched his way to the door. The wind was rising in the west. A storm was coming. Already he could hear the chimes of storm warnings as the Web prepared for another blast. “The Dragon Winds are upon us,” he thought.

In his mind’s eye he could see the storm swirling. Lightning crackled and thunder roared. It was like a living thing, enraged, hurling fists of wind and rain at the battered buildings of the Citadel. But at its heart, riding the beast, was the Void. The Emptiness. It was coming for him.

Despair set in. Why bother? What could be so important about a single life that it would be worth recording? He oozed back into his bed and watched his lungs heave from the exertion. His warped and mangled body quivered, but the thought echoed in his mind.

What had he done? What would be left when he was gone? There was nothing, nothing at all.

Whom had he loved?

Whom had he protected?

What had he given?

With a sob, he saw the truth. All this life, all this power, and in the end, nothing. Emptiness within. The Void, reaching out to him.

How had he deluded himself for so long?

A rustle outside. A quiet rattle, like old bones. A flapping of blackest wings. He shuddered. In his fear and despair something collapsed in his mind. For one final moment, his power blazed forth.

In the skies over the Citadel, letters of fire began to form. Across the city the inhabitants of the Citadel stopped their busy walk to gaze in wonder at the blazing script tearing across the sky. “” Then, with a sputter, the letters vanished, leaving only a trace of smoke in the air that the wind carried away.

Far above, the tiny hut burned. One by one the ropes holding it in place snapped. Slowly, ever so slowly, the hut began the long fall. It fell like a meteor in the night, burning, blazing, then suddenly vanishing forever.

The Ark

To the east of the Citadel, embraced by an arm of the mighty Mountains, squats the Ark. It is three miles on each side and a mile high, making it larger than any other building ever seen on Alyria. In its shadow lie many villages, newly built and bustling with life. For many years, the Ark was closed, but now the Arkites have burst into the world and are swarming across Alyria. The High Lords of the Citadel watch and are afraid. Very afraid.

The Ark--History

When the Progenitors first came to Alyria, they had need of dwelling places that would keep them safe from the dangerous environment until the atmosphere was breathable. Domed Kryshana was one such place. The Ark was another. Built to be totally self-sufficient, many of the most learned of the Progenitors dwelt within the Ark’s mighty walls. Even after the air became breathable, many scholars chose to remain in the Ark, pursuing their studies. Many flocked to the Ark, drawn by the promise of knowledge. The Ark was at peace.

This was not to last. When the dragon cultists rose up against the Progenitors and released the ripper plague, the Ark was attacked. As the ripper plague ran its course, the leaders of the Ark saw their only course. The infected were expelled from the Ark, and the doors were sealed. An abortive cultist uprising was stifled quickly, and the inhabitants of the Ark settled in to wait out the Rape. External sensors were programmed to keep the doors of the Ark locked until the plague was no longer detected in the air. It was not supposed to be a long wait.

But there was a slight malfunction in the sensors. Nothing too impressive. Nothing too deadly. But the doors did not open. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. And still the doors remained shut. Within the Ark, life became increasingly challenging. The emergency supplies of food ran out. Equipment began wearing out and could not be replaced. And the population just kept growing. They were running out of space. They were running out of food.

And so the inhabitants of the Ark made some very difficult decisions.

A thousand years passed.

Then one day, the unthinkable occurred. A freak malfunction triggered the locking mechanism on the airlocks. For the first time in a thousand years, the doors of the Ark opened to the outside world. Those that emerged were nothing like those that had entered.

The Opening of the Ark stands as a pivotal moment in Alyrian history. For the Ark has embarked on a policy of aggressive colonization that has brought it into direct conflict with the rest of the known world, especially the Citadel. War is coming, and the masked warriors of the Ark may yet prevail.

The Ark--The Numbered

Even though the Ark has now opened, life continues in the ancient manner. A tradition of survival and communalism has kept the Ark alive, and there are few who wish to threaten their own survival.

No one in the Ark is born with a name. Names are considered to be dangerous. Names are a symbol of the individual, and the individual is dangerous to the community. So there are no longer any names. Instead, a person is given a duty number. This represents his current assignment, his section number, and his birth crèche, as well as reflecting previous successful assignments. Therefore, the inhabitants of the Ark are sometimes called the Numbered. They are interchangeable, performing their duties with quiet efficiency.

No one in the Ark may have a face. Faces are signs of the individual and are to be shunned. Instead, each adult wears a mask that reflects his current duties, as well as a long hooded robe that is colored to match the mask. A gardener might have a mask carved like ivy and a robe of brown and gold. A warrior might wear a mask carved like a hideous beast and a robe of black and red. One of the Choosers might have a set of scales carved across his mask and wear a robe of white. Whenever a person is given a duty assignment, he receives his new mask in a special ceremony called the Masking. A person’s first Masking is his rite of passage into adult life in the Ark. Before this, he is only a child, being cared for by the crèche parents appointed to him. The only place where a Numbered may remove his mask is in his private meditation chamber where he sleeps. Only here may he remove the mask and robe of his office and look upon his own face. But no one else may do so. All they may see are the mask and the robe.

No one in the Ark may be married. There is no concept of “family” in the Ark at all. Rather, some Numbered are given the duty assignment of reproduction. These are interbred as directed by the Eugenics Council, and their offspring are placed in crèches that are parented by other Numbered who have received that duty assignment. While the Ark was sealed, the population was strictly controlled, and many pregnancies were aborted to prevent overcrowding. Now that the Ark has opened, the Eugenics Council has ceased this unfortunate policy, especially as colonists are needed to man the outlying colonies. In order to prevent undesirable pregnancies, certain of the Numbered are sterilized and are assigned to physical pleasure duty. Any other sort of sexual activity is strictly forbidden.

All this sounds like a nightmare existence. Yet it is what the Numbered choose.

The Ark is not an oppressive dictatorship. It is a democracy. Each member of the Eugenics Council or the Duty Council is chosen by his section. Anyone of the Numbered may call a section meeting or call for a referendum on an issue. No one is forced to live this life. Indeed, if the Numbered wished, they could destroy their way of life with a simple vote. Instead, every day, the Numbered awaken and choose to continue to live this life. They choose to wear the mask every day, of their own free will.

The Ark--The Named

But there are those who are restless. New ideas have come with the opening of the Ark, and there are some who feel that change is needed. They see the Numbered way of life as an abomination, and instead they choose to live lives of individuality. They call themselves the Named, for they discard their duty numbers in favor of actual names.

Some do this openly, perhaps declaring themselves in a section meeting, or refusing to wear their mask. Others do this quietly, living double lives. All are a threat to the fabric of Ark society and are met with harsh reprisals.

And what do these rebels want? The answer is as varied as the bizarre names that they choose for themselves. Some idealists wish for a better society, where the needs of the group and individual are harmonized. Others seek escape from the asceticism of the Ark, turning to shocking hedonistic displays. Still others mutter of revolution, throwing off the Twin Councils or burning the Ark to the ground. Yet in the minds of the Numbered, they are all deadly, and all are hunted vigorously.

The Ark--The Colonies

When the Ark opened, the Twin Councils launched a massive program of colonization, freeing the populace from the tight population controls that they had imposed and encouraging the settlement of new territory. Now there exist many small villages and towns that are peopled by the Numbered of the Ark. These colonies are the only hope for the future of the Ark. There is simply not enough space in the Ark, and the territory being held by the colonists will provide room for years to come. And yet, the most dangerous threats to the Numbered way of life are to be found in the colonies. Contact with Citadel explorers and the inhabitants of the wilderness have brought new ideas into the conservative society of the Numbered, and the Named have found much support in the colonies. Some rumors even speak of entire Ark villages that have gone Named, discarding their masks and duty numbers in favor of names. The Twin Councils are at a loss, uncertain of how to proceed. Some argue for patience, while others claim that the rebel Named must be purged. Yet none can deny this: a civil war is brewing.

Wearing the Mask: A Tale of Alyria

Suddenly, he awoke. Sweating, he panted in the darkness. Was it a dream? His mind was muddled and confused, still swathed in the mists of sleep. He groped for the light switch and turned it on. The pale blue glow of the single bulb illuminated the room. It was still the same as always. The bed, the small table, the single chair. He looked at the water clock. Was it really that early? The chime had not yet sounded to awaken him for work. How he wished for a window. He did not have a window, but he was hopeful that, with hard work and dedication, he would receive one. Some day. It was one of his fondest dreams.


Memories of last night trickled into his head, like water in the water clock. It could not have been a dream. They had all been there. She had been there. How could she be a dream?

“How could she not be a dream?” whispered a cynical voice in his head. He ignored it, trying to remember what had happened. Too much strong drink, too much excitement. His eyes fell on the robe, tossed carelessly on his chair. And his mask....

His mask lay on the table. Its empty eyes stared at him accusingly.

And he remembered.


The sun was setting over the western wall of the Ark. He looked up at it, wiping the sweat from his brow. Almost dark. Good. Soon the day would be over and he would have a chance to rest. Tonight the section kitchen was serving real venison, hunted in the forests outside the Ark. Rumor even claimed that a musician from one of the colonial villages would be performing, singing and telling tales of the world outside the Ark. It would be a pleasant evening.

But until then, there was still work to be done. The Interior Forest needed to be maintained. He returned to weeding his flowerbed. Ever since he had been placed in a birth crèche, the Choosers had earmarked him for this duty. Their decision had proven to be wise. He had a natural gift with plants. Under his care they bloomed and flourished. The Mask-Maker who had been assigned to craft his first duty mask had noticed as well. His mask was golden, etched with blooming irises and finely detailed ivy vines, twining on his cheekbones and curling around the eyeholes. “Your face will shine like the sun,” the old Mask-Maker had said, “and will remind us of our future in the green growing world.” How he had glowed with pride as he had stood before the community and had received his first duty number and his first mask. 74-336-0-0-115. It was carved on his mask and burned into his heart. He smiled at the memory.

But it had been four years since his masking, and his pride had long since faded. Doubt had crept into his mind. Four years spent weeding the flowerbeds? How could this be service to the Ark? Did the Choosers not care that his abilities were squandered here? He wanted to be able to do so much more. Above all, he wanted a window in his meditation chamber. Just a simple window overlooking the Interior Forest. Surely that was not too much to ask.

One of the other gardeners glided over to him. Her eyes peered out from a mask inlaid with gold and brown leaves and her robe rustled like a tree in spring. 69-336-20-51-115 was written on her forehead. “So, 74,” she said, “what are your plans for this evening?” Her eyes sparkled like dewdrops. “Going to the concert?”

“Well, uh, I don’t really know yet,” he said. “Er, perhaps I will just retire to my meditation chamber and consider my service to the Ark.” He winced even as he said it. “How stuffy you sound,” he thought. Even the section leaders rest once their duty cycle is completed.

Her eyes laughed at him. “I would not want to keep you from your meditations,” she said coolly. “But, if you were not otherwise occupied, I would like to spend some time with you in...conversation.” She laughed as he stammered his acceptance. “I will meet you after the evening meal outside the dining hall. Do not be late, for I will not wait.” She turned and glided away and he tried to return to his work. But in his mind, her silvery laugh still echoed, and her sparkling eyes hung before him.

It seemed to him that the meal would never end. He hadn’t cared for the venison, although he had eaten it dutifully. (“The resources of the collective should never be wasted,” had been the Regulation preached during the last convocation.) This cycle he had been seated by a couple that had just been assigned a child. It had been challenging. The child had squalled all dinner, despite his mothers’ attempts to soothe him. Finally, in a fit of rage, the child had thrown his bottle, which had splattered everyone at the table with warm soymilk. The wastage of food had been noted, and the section leader had reprimanded the mothers. It had been a shameful scene, and he had been glad when the chime had sounded, signaling the end of the meal. He hurried to return his meal dish to the Server and rushed through the ritual of thanks. Then he slipped from the room.

69 was waiting for him by the section’s notice board. She laughed as she saw his milk-spattered robe. “Sitting too close to a young one?” she asked.

His pride was stung, so he quoted one of the Regulations. “The children of the Ark are the future of the collective.”

“Very true. Very true. Now come quickly,” she said, pulling him down a darkened corridor. He had never been this way before and soon became lost in the twisting maze of dark corridors. When he asked where they were going, she hushed him. Hurt and confused, he continued to follow her.

Soon they came to a door. 69 slid a punch card into the slot and the door creaked open. Upon entering the room, he stopped in amazement. It was no room. It was outside. They were on the roof of the Ark. 69 closed the door behind them. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said, her low voice thrilling through him. “Look to the east. Do you not see it?” He turned and saw the blood-red Weeping Moon rising over the mountains. She came up behind him and wrapped her arms around him. “Isn’t it amazing how something so deadly can be so beautiful?”

He froze in stunned amazement. No had ever touched him like this. It was definitely forbidden to one of the Servants. (“The body of a Servant is given to him by the collective, and he shall use it in the service of the collective.”) And yet, he thrilled to the feeling of her soft arms wrapped around him. Indecision wracked him.

She spoke then, softly, barely able to be heard over the cool wind that blew across the roof. “I’ve wanted to bring you out here for so long. Ever since I laid eyes on you, I knew that you would be the one. You are so in love with your plants. It’s like they are your own children. I see you talking to them as you water them, telling them your little stories. That’s how I knew.”

He pulled away then, turning to face her. “69? What are you saying?”

She stepped back as well. “Don’t call me 69,” she said. She took a deep breath. “I have a name.” Pause. “Would you like to hear it?”

He surprised himself by answering her. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I would love to hear your name.”

She hesitated. “I cannot tell you my name without showing you my face.” Another pause. Then, in a tiny voice, “Will you look at my face?”

He felt a tightness in his throat as he whispered, “I would love to see your face.”

Her hands came up to her face. Slowly she lowered the mask. She was beautiful. Dark skin like chocolate. Deep brown eyes. Black hair falling in ringlets. “My name is Autumn,” she said. Her hands reached for his mask, and he did not resist.

They made love that night on the roof of the Ark, their entwined bodies bathed in the blood red light of the Weeping Moon.


He turned the mask in his hands, watching it catch the light. The next few weeks had been a blur. He and Autumn had met secretly every night, sharing their passion. And they had talked. She had been born into a birth crèche in one of the colonies, so she had many stories to share about the outside world. She told him of first seeing the Sea of Mist, with its billowing clouds and rumbling thunder. She spoke of early mornings in the forest, when the fog still clung to the trees like a wispy veil. And together they chose a name for him.

A tapping at the door startled him from his reverie. “Helios!” a voice whispered. “Helios! Open the door.”

He looked from the door to the mask, from the mask to the door. He did not move.
“Helios!” the voice hissed again. “Helios!”

It was Autumn.


“Where are we going?” he asked. It was part of the nightly ritual. She would whisk them off to some undiscovered side corridor, where they would yield to their passions.

“You’ll see,” she answered. “Tonight I have a special surprise for you.”

Light flooded from the opening door, dazzling them. “Give the password,” a harsh voice demanded. Autumn spoke quietly. “Very well. You may enter,” the voice said.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, he could see that the room was full of people. Some sat on benches by the tables. Others lounged on the floor or slouched against the wall. Each wore the robe and mask of the Servants of the Ark. He turned to see a huge man, dressed in a black robe, closing the door behind them. “My apologies, good sir,” the man said, “but we cannot be too careful. Autumn understands this. My name is Miyamoto Hercules Washingon, and I am the leader of this group of the Named. I would like to talk further with you, but first I must begin the ceremonies.” The man pushed past him before he could speak and took his place in the center of the room.

“My friends, we are gathered here today as those who are Named. Come, shed your masks with me for a while, and revel in your freedom!” And without further ceremony the man pulled the mask from his face and threw it to the floor.

All across the room, others followed suit. Some cast their masks to the floor, while others spit or trod upon them. Autumn removed her mask with a yell of glee and cast it to the floor. He removed his mask more slowly and placed it carefully on a nearby table.

Someone thrust a bottle into his face. “Here, drink!” the person said. He sipped from the bottle and began to cough violently. “What is that?” he demanded, once he had recovered. But the person was already gone. He looked around the room and saw that it had dissolved into chaos. The bottle that he had sampled was being passed around the room. Incense had been lit, and the sweet-smelling smoke was beginning to fill the room. Someone was playing music. All around him celebrants reveled. He shrank back to the wall, looking for Autumn, but he could not see her. So he began to pick his way across the room. Finally he saw her, seated at a table with the big man who had started the ceremony. He stepped around a ménage a trois and pushed through the crowd that was forming around the trio, trying to reach Autumn. When she saw him, her face lit up. “Helios! Sit down with me. Miyamoto, have you met Helios?”

The big man smiled and put out his hand. “Just in passing. How are you doing, Helios?”

He looked at the big man in confusion. What was he supposed to do? Autumn laughed. “Helios, you’re supposed to take his hand and grip it tightly. It’s a personal gesture of greeting that Miyamoto made up. Don’t you think that it is much more personal than the Servant’s Salute?” She mimed it, mocking. “Hands to heart, hands out in service.” He winced.

The big man noticed. “Come, Helios. Why do you make that face? Sit and explain to us your feelings. We are listening.”

He sat down, painfully aware of the racket from the three in the middle of the room and their cheering audience. He began to speak but began coughing on the incense smoke that drifted through the room. The big man stood up and pounded him on the back. Gagging, he threw up onto the table. “What a wonderful idea!” someone shouted. Soon, several others had gathered around the table, attempting to vomit as well. He stood up weakly, reeling from the clashing odors in the room, disoriented by the smoke, dazed by the noise and confusion. Two men were standing on the table now, punching each other violently. The crowd in the middle of the room cheered. The room spun. He tried to scream, but no noise came. Stumbling from the table, he fled the room.

Autumn found him in the corridor, curled against the wall. “Helios, what is the matter?” she asked.

He looked at her incredulously. “What is the matter?” He waved at the room. “You cannot tell?”

“No. They are exercising their freedom.”

“Their freedom?”

“Their freedom to act for themselves. To choose their own lives and destinies, instead of being subjected to the Councils’ decisions. For this night, they can do as they please. What is so terrible about that?”

He stared at her. “But did you not see what they were doing? The drinking, the arguing.”

She shrugged. “What business is it of mine to judge what they are doing? It is their choice.” She held out a bottle to him. “Here. Drink.”

He knocked the bottle from her hand. It shattered against the wall. Their eyes locked for a moment.

He looked away first. “I am returning to my meditation chamber. I can only hope that the section bath is still open.” He stood up. “Goodbye, Autumn.”

“Do not leave,” she begged. “Stay with me a little longer.” She held open her robe. “You will be glad that you did.”

He stared at her in disgust. “The body of a Servant is given to him by the collective, and he shall use it in the service of the collective,” he quoted. “Remember that, 69.” He turned down the corridor.

Her voice reached him. “I am pregnant.” He stopped. “I am pregnant with your child. Tomorrow morning I am leaving the Ark. There are Named in the outlying colonies who will take me in so that I can give birth to the child. It is what I have always wanted, Helios. A child of my own, one that I can name and love and raise by myself, without the Choosers taking him away or telling me what to do with him.”

He turned back to her. The open door framed her silhouette. Her robe still hung open, but her face was hidden in shadows. “Come with me,” she begged. “Come with me. Together we can raise our child.”

The big man loomed in the doorway. “Autumn, are you coming in or not? I have to keep this door closed.”

“Tell me,” he said, “did you really love me? Or did you just love the idea of loving me?”

She was silent, her shadowed face unreadable.

“Autumn,” the big man said. “I need to close the door. Besides, I think that you are wanted inside.”

He turned away and walked down the corridor. Behind him, the door slammed shut.


“Helios! Let me in!” she whispered. “We do not have much time. They will catch me if I stay too much longer. Let me in!”

He held the mask up to his face. Funny how different the world looks from behind a mask. He turned it over and looked at it.

More tapping. “Helios!”

His finger traced the ivy on the golden mask.

“Helios! Please! I’m begging you!”

His hand brushed over his duty number.

“Helios! I’m leaving now. Are you coming with me?”

The water clock chimed. All over the Ark his fellow workers would be stirring. Soon the Ark would be awake. He would need to hurry if he was going to be at his duty station on time. He could almost hear his flowers were calling to him.

A vision of Autumn passed through his mind. Those deep brown eyes...


The light gleamed off the mask as he stood.

It was time to go.

The Core and the True Keepers

Far to the south the Mountains of Glory tower against the sky, blazing with light and heat. Surrounding them is a blasted desert that none have crossed. The charred bones of many who have tried lay scattered in the black sand.

Within these mountains, accessible by secret tunnels and hidden ways, lies the Core, home of Pheric and the True Keepers. For it is here that the Progenitors first made landfall when they came from the sky. It is here that they delved deeply, building the machines that bring life to the entire world. It is here that they enshrined Pheric whom they brought from the worlds beyond the sky. It is here that Pheric now sits enthroned, ruling over the land.

The Core itself is quite cool, but the blazing heat of the Mountains of Glory prevent casual excursions outside. Thus, many of the True Keepers have never seen the outside world. Instead, they live out a quiet, monastic life of service. Each True Keeper learns the rites of maintenance that must be performed. So long as these rites are performed, each True Keeper is free to pursue a life of contemplation and study. The library of the Core is full of learned treatises and monographs written by generations of True Keepers: generations now dead. Even more prized are the few remaining manuscripts left over from the time of the Progenitors themselves.

One duty taken seriously by the True Keepers is the praise of Pheric. In the center of the Core there is a large arched room. All the tunnels in the Core connect in some way with this place. In this room there stands a choir, perpetually chanting the Sacred Name of Pheric which is a number and not a word. Every True Keeper spends one hour of his day participating in this choir, chanting the Sacred Name. It is a high and holy privilege. The chant echoes through the tunnels and halls of the Core, so that the Name of Pheric is heard at all times.

Sometimes, though, a trip to the outside world cannot be avoided. Alyria is covered with many True Shrines of Pheric which must be periodically consecrated with the rites of maintenance. Moreover, at times a True Shrine of Pheric may be desecrated by the ungodly. In these cases, two or three True Keepers don the robes of mendicants and journey from the Core to perform the rites. Those that return tell strange tales of the world outside the safety of their mountains. Some do not return at all.

The highest ranking Keepers in the Core are given the title of Programmer. To these privileged few is given the burden of the truth. The Programmers are told the true history of Alyria. They are taught that Pheric is naught but a computer and that the Mountains of Glory are merely its heat sinks. They are shown the twin perils of dragons and Outsiders. They are taught that the fate of Alyria rests with them, for surely if the dragons or Outsiders should learn the truth about Pheric and the Core, the world is doomed. It is a heavy burden that they bear. For, as they say, knowledge is weightier than the mountains.