With the last of the Demodand defeated, the six gathered undead watched as the slightest fractures appeared across the luminous green crystal that hung suspended at the end of the cavernous chamber, deep beneath the Tree of Sorrow.
Fractures quickly spread along the crystalline surface becoming cracks and then without further warning, the megalith shattered into thousands of tiny fragments releasing an explosion of light that caused the onlookers to briefly avert their eyes. With the light came a sonic boom, an invisible wave of force that spread from horizon to horizon almost instantly.
Refocusing their vision as the light faded, the undead saw the form of a human man suspended where once the crystal had been, now shattered upon the floor like so many emerald tears. For the briefest of moments the human man hung there motionless before gently drifting to the ground with unearthly grace and turning to face them as he did so.
Dressed in a green and gold robe, elegant and regal; this human had fine almost hawk-like features, dark hair and eyes that radiated within them awe-inspiring and terrible power. Hung at his hip was a golden sword, impossibly perfect in its design, and before he even moved his lips to speak the identity of the man was known to all. Unmistakable and true:
The Last of the First Humans. The Last Azlanti. The Living God, Aroden.
Missing since 4606 AR, presumed dead when his followers no longer heard his word or felt his presence, the Lost God of Humanity addressed the Deathless gathered before him along with a respectful bow – almost as if he considered them equal among the Gods.
“Thank-you my friends,” His words were sincere and restrained yet full of barely contained deific radiance. “Though I knew you would come as you were ordained to do, I no less appreciate your timely intervention. I am sure you have many questions, and I shall do what I can to satisfy your curiosity…but first know that what you have done here today shall never be forgotten. Not by my Brothers and Sisters, and certainly not by myself.”
Aroden took a step forward, placed a hand upon Victor’s shoulder and gave him a knowing nod before stepping into the centre of an impromptu circle the undead had unintentionally formed.
“Though I was trapped within that prison unable to affect the world around me,” The God continued. “I saw. I listened. Even within that cell I saw your plight. The ending of your lives and those around you. Your unwilling rebirth into the bodies you now inhabit. I know that forces have begun to move in your wake; mortals such as the Wizard Zakalov. Lords of power such as The Whispering Tyrant, Tar-Baphon. Even my brothers and sisters are not beyond interfering it seems. Though his domain is His and His alone, through the movements of His Herald I know that my brother Iori took it upon himself to contact you.” The God smiled at the Deathless then, the slightest movement upon his face that expressed almost unquantifiable sympathy.
“I know you did not ask for any of this, and in a multitude of ways you will likely never fully understand, I am truly sorry you have become involved.”
As the Deathless looked upon the Living God with curiosity at the statement, some moved their hands toward their blades as if the apology were a precursor to aggressive action. Seeing their concern and confusion, Aroden raised and then lowered a hand to indicate the undead should keep their weapons sheathed.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” he continued, reassuringly. “Far from it in fact.”Letting out an audible, almost theatrical sigh The Last Azlanti carried on with what he was saying.
“For you to fully understand the scope of what is to come and your part within it, you must first understand the past and the events that lead us to this place. Know that a weight rests upon your shoulders that nobody should ever have to carry.”
“If you know who I am,” he continued without pause “then most likely you will know of what I have done. Know then, that in the year recorded as minus five-two-ninety-three AR, I was there at the event history recorded as Earthfall. I lived through the waning years of The Age of Dragons and witnessed the destruction of Alzant that signalled the beginning of what scholars called The Age of Darkness. I saw those cursed meteoroids fall unto our world, witnessed countless deaths and the shifting of the very land and sea. At that point I was mortal, not the being you see before you today.”
Aroden paused then, permitting himself the slightest moment of nostalgic reflection before continuing.
“It is true that I used magic to raise the largest meteorite – the fabled Starstone – from the depths of the ocean, to sit upon the Isle of Kortos. Legends tell you that the Starstone was part of a larger celestial body, an asteroid called into collision with the world by the Aboleth. It is said that this was a punishment from the Aboleth for the hubris of the Azlanti people, and that too, is truth. The Goddess Acavna and the God Amaznen sacrificed themselves to stop the Starstone, but even in its weakened state it caused neigh-catastrophic damage to Golarion – indeed the entire Inner Sea region, the lands upon which we now stand, were formed by that very impact. The oldest of written records state that this Starstone was a fragment of a poisonous, unborn planet, an abomination of planetary proportions designed to destroy all life on Golarion. This too, is true – to an extent.”
The God studied the faces of the assembled dead then, waiting until he felt they were absorbing the information he was delivering, so vital was it that they understood this message, that it outweighed even the urgency of their situation.
“Upon divine ascension one’s perspective of the universe alters. I became aware of things that most mortal minds should not even attempt to comprehend: great wonders, universal truths…and the existence of horrors even worse than the Elder Gods that live in the darkness between the stars. What I tell you now may be hard for you to accept and believe, but believe it you must for the very existence of Golarion – of the all worlds within our spheres of influence – depend upon it.”
“The Starstone did indeed come from a larger celestial body, a giant asteroid that drifts through the void. This asteroid is a vehicle of sorts, a vast hollow mass that transports a creature so terrible that even the Gods and Titans balk at its very existence. It goes by many names: ‘Beast’, ‘Devourer of Worlds’, ‘Starkiller’. None know its true name, but upon ascension I learned that my new Brothers and Sisters – the Gods themselves, were aware of the Starkiller. Worse, it had visited our Solar System before thousands of years in the past. This thing, this Starkiller, devours all sentient life of any planet it visits: the very beings of that world, the flora and fauna, the magical and the mundane; all are food for the Beast. Alien and unknowable, the Gods never truly understood how the creature found the worlds within our Solar System….but I do.”
With the slightest gesture of his hand the entire scenery of the cave began to change: stone walls fell away to empty black and purple sky. As the Deathless watched the ground beneath their feet became as cracked, lifeless rock. As far as the eye could see in all directions was nothingness, only the occasional spike of a mountain or other rock formation in the far distance. All around them was a vast, deafening silence. Nothing stirred, no noises could be heard. Devoid of any inhabitants or plant-life, the seven figures stood upon the empty, desolate plain.
“This,” Aroden spoke as the scenery shifted slowly into focus “Is the world of Moralinth. Once as fertile and full of energy as Golarion, it now stands dead. A husk in space, nothing exists here. There is no life, nor unlife. Magic does not permeate here, the laws of man and beast hold no meaning. This is a world upon which The Starkiller Beast has fed. A world forgotten and stagnant in its wake.”
“While most are unaware of how The Beast locates these worlds among so many others in the cosmos, I can show you. I fear you may already know, at least in the subconscious of your mind.”
Waving his right hand in a steady, rhythmic motion as if conducting an orchestra, Aroden concentrated. A few feet from where the group stood the ground began to shake and then crack, the sounds almost overwhelming after the silence of the dead world. As the land split open the sight of a green-black crystal began to emerge, slowly rising from its resting place in the ground below at the behest of the God.
Eventually a megalith fully appeared, twenty feet in height and ten feet wide at the top, shrinking down to a smaller point just two feet across at the bottom. The strange crystal simply hung there, levitating fifteen feet in the air. Now utterly dormant, it resembled the crystalline device that Rastomir had seen in his vision, the one that the wizard Zakalov had used in his creation of the Deathless. Now black and seemingly inert, the green veins of energy could be seen faintly beneath its surface.
Aroden looked toward the crystal and then back to the Deathless.
“This is known as an Eternecrüx. It is an alien device which acts a signal emitter that The Starkiller is able to follow, to home in on. Following the signal the Eternecrüx broadcasts, The Starkiller finds its next source of food, using its will to steer the vast asteroid inside which it rests. Normally when the Beast floats through the cosmos it releases thousands of these transmitters into each solar system and then follows any signal its unfathomably alien mind accepts as ‘edible’. When the Aboleth called down their life-ending ‘rock from the stars’ what they actually did was dislodged a part of the Starkillers’ asteroid which was actually responding to an active Eternecrüx signal on another world in our system – Castrovel
The God paused again then, letting the large amount of information presented to the Deathless process before he waved his hand again and the illusion of the Dead World Moralinth vanished, returning them to the subterranean cave once again.“I understand this may be a lot for you to believe – that others worlds beside our own exist – especially if you are not trained in planar or intergalactic lore. If I were able to give you more time to research what I say I would recommend it, but alas our time is short and I must continue.”
“By calling down the Starstone the Aboleth also brought along with it a number of dormant Eternecrüx. Most were badly damaged or destroyed in the fall but one, unfortunately, survived intact. Dormant for so many years, when the Wizard Zakalov became desperate at being unable to cure his daughter, he accepted help from a creature known as The NightWalker. In so doing the Wizard unwittingly set in motion a chain of events that will lead in the destruction of Golarion. The Eternecrüx you see, the device used to create yourselves, is active. Its invisible signal is broadcasting, and The Starkiller is homing in on our world.”
Realisation began to show on the faces of the Deathless, suddenly aware that they were linked with an alien monstrosity that could spell the destruction of all things. Not only had they met a grisly end and returned to unlife against their will, it seemed they had a part to play in saving a world that they were already dead to.
“It is the Eternecrüx that grants you unlife, it is that which restores your body when it is destroyed. When Zakalov tried to follow the ritual given to him by the NightWalker, his mind was so badly warped by his “advisor” that he made mistakes. You were designed to be agents of The Eternecrüx, guardians that would help usher in the end of the world. Luckily for the rest of us you retained your free will: the ritual was only partly successful.”
“To elaborate: The NightWalker, known to you as The First Deathless, is a servant of The Starkiller. He – for it is indeed a ‘he’ – wishes to see Golarion destroyed for his master.” The briefest of pauses then, as Aroden rested his hand upon the pommel of his golden blade.
“Yet, like so many things even this is not black and white. The NightWalker was not always this way, he was not always a servant of The Beast.”
Again, Aroden waved a hand and again the scenery around the group altered and shifted. This time they were surrounded by rolling green fields, flowers swaying gently in the breeze. Trees taller than castles reached up toward the sky, and not five feet from where they stood, seemingly oblivious to their presence, an Elfan man played with his young daughter while his wife looked on. Different somehow to the Elves of the Inner Sea, these Elves had gold-within-gold eyes and hair like burning sunrise, skin like cream that covered their lithe and limber bodies. As they watched a great shadow fell over the place and time slowed then froze as the family looked up toward the sky as a great mountain-like structure descended through the clouds blanketing everything in a chaotic dark shadow. Impossibly large black tendrils writhed all about it, lashing madly in all directions. The scene became motionless then, an event frozen in time.
The God turned to the six Deathless, unrestrained by the magic that stilled the world around them.
“This,” he said with the sweeping of his hands “Is the world of Castrovel, also known as ‘The Green’. Second world from the Sun and the neighbour to Golarion, it very nearly suffered the same fate as Moralinth.” Pointing a finger skyward toward the titanic thing that descended through the clouds. “That,” he continued. “Is The Starkiller.”
“It is the year of Earthfall, and while we suffered the sundering of the Starstone on Golarion, here on Castrovel, The Beast had come to consume all.”
The God stepped toward the father and daughter then, the girl embraced in her fathers’ arms, her face pressed against her chest to shield her from the impending doom. The man on the other hand, looked straight up at the world-destroyer, a resolute and determined look on his face.
“…and this is Gleneurdon Celetaellyn, the forgotten Hero of Castrovel. It is through his ingenuity and sacrifice that he was able to blind the Starkiller to the signal of the Eternecrüx upon that world by absorbing its energy into himself and ending his mortal life in the process. With the signal lost the Starkiller retreated, presumably ‘picking up the scent’ of another signal, but Celetaellyn was cursed with an unlife and was forced to flee his family. The First of the Deathless indeed.”
“In the years that followed, the Hero of Castrovel took up the moniker of his new undead form, that of The NightWalker, and spent his days searching for and destroying the other Eternecrüx found on his world and later, on others. By the time The Nightwalker had reached Golarion it had been many years and the alien taint inside of him – one never meant for mortals to endure – had begun to slowly change him, corrupt his mind and alter his body. It was not long until, ironically, Gleneurdon Celetaellyn was no more, his personality completely consumed by that which he fought so hard to stop. At some point during his travels on Golarion he ceased being the Elf Hero of Castrovel and instead became truly The NightWalker, a servant of The Starkiller.”
For the second time realisation began to creep into the faces of the Deathless as the God took a moment to pause in his explanation.
“It is The Nightwalker who sought the Eternecrüx of Golarion, not to destroy them but to activate them. It is the NightWalker that convinced the Wizard Zakalov to use the Eternecrüx to try and save his daughter. It is The NightWalker who used Zakalov to make more like himself. More agents of The Starkiller. More Deathless.”
“And therein lies your origin my friends, such as it is. You were designed as heralds of the apocalypse, an Armageddon no native of Golarion – not even the Gods it would seem – have the ability to stop. The Eternecrüx are indestructible to our attempts to assail them, and it seems that if the events at Castrovel have anything to teach us, it is that only those who possess the essence of the Eternecrüx can affect it, let alone stop it.”
With a wave of his hand the group were suddenly back in the cave once more.
The God stifled a slight laugh then, so oddly placed among the devastating news he had given those listening to his tale. Oddly-placed until he continued his explanation and it became apparent even Gods could falter.
“Which leads me to where I have been this many years.” the smile replaced with a sigh and a slight shake of his head in disbelief.
“As soon as I learned of this, I moved against the Eternecrüx. It was hard to find, the dormant one at least, and The NightWalker was waiting for me. I was so desperate to stop that signal at any cost, so angered by my Brothers and Sisters inaction that I acted alone, hastily. I regretfully accept that I fell into the NightWalkers’ trap. Knowing that I would find and assail the Eternecrüx, the NightWalker recruited the aid of the ancient enemies of the Gods; the Thanatotic titans. Somehow he had managed to release a trio of the abominable creatures from their prison within the Abyss and they awaited me along with an army of Demodands. I am ashamed to say I was caught unaware and over-run. Imprisoned here, beneath the Tree of Sorrow, within that crystalline prison you freed me from, I was severed from the world in the worst possible way; cut off from my followers, unable to steer prophecies or alter the world. My Brothers and Sisters could not find me, and all I could do was watch and listen as the world carried on, oblivious to the fate that awaited it. When I did not return as was prophesied, destruction followed as the natural balance was shifted, and you know the result – the three week-long storms that racked the Inner Sea and created the Eye of Abendego. I have been here ever since.”
“Some of my followers,” The God began with a polite nod toward Victor “Never truly believed I was dead despite all evidence to the contrary, and through them my last prophecy lived on in The Starfall Doctrine. It was in this passage that I was able to leave clues before I assaulted the Eternecrüx, safe in the knowledge that the innovation of Humanity would shine through.”
“Following my incarceration the Eternecrüx was moved, and while inside that crystal prison I was unable to discern where its destination was. Now that I am free I can begin that search anew, but I say with regret that the majority of our task ahead falls to you. Once again you have my apologies for the fate that has befallen you, it is most cruel indeed. You see, your time in this world is limited. If we are not able to stop the signal of the Eternecrüx then all upon Golarion are doomed anyway, but for you there is no happy ending. Even if you are able to stop the Eternecrüx signal, even if you are able to turn the gaze of The Starkiller away from our world, you are no longer the men and women you were in life. Even if you cannot consciously feel it now, you are waging a war to hold onto your true selves, that which the essence of the Eternecrüx is slowly enveloping. In truth each of you are part of the Eternecrüx and it is part of you. Like Gleneurdon Celetaellyn you will fade in time, until only The NightWalker remains. Until only your Deathless selves remain.”
“I am truly sorry.”
A moment of silence hung in the air. When even a God could look humble, the Deathless stared to one another: suddenly aware that they were not immortal after all, that the world was closing in on them in the most debilitating way, and that the only people that could help them – could understand their plight – were themselves. With three other Deathless unaccounted for and one purposefully against them, added to their finite time-scale, things looked decidedly bleak.
“With utmost haste we must find The NightWalker and stop the Eternecrüx signal. It has been active since your rebirth, which was exactly seven moons ago. I dare say the Starkiller is almost upon us. Luckily I may be able to afford you a lead to find The NightWalker at least.”
“Occasionally during my incarceration I would be visited by The NightWalker – sometimes to taunt me, sometimes to study me. Though I was unable to act, I could observe, as I have said before. On two occasions when The NightWalker visited me he had another with him; a Vampire. Exceedingly interested in my predicament, I still do not know why the creature did not use his knowledge of my state to his advantage, but his close association with The NightWalker was obvious.”
“The Vampire, hailing from Varno here in Ustalav, was one Conte Ristomaur Tiriac. Ruler of that land, Tiriac is a dangerous adversary and would be difficult to assail within his ancestral home. However, it is known that he often frequents the homes of his more noteworthy subjects, especially those noble families that are found in the Refleaf Estates. One in particular…”
The Gods’ eyes suddenly darted in Gregor direction, making him feel more than a little uneasy.
“Tiriac is said to currently visiting Lord Romavitch, a man of questionable morals and lofty ambition. I would recommend starting there.”
“I understand that many of you are still coming to terms with your new state of being and more than a few of the Deathless are striking up alliances with various factions. Between the nine of you not all are as closely connected as this group. While I appreciate your need to protect yourselves in this world, know that you cannot guard yourself against a world that does not exist. Stopping the signal of the Eternecrüx is paramount, above all other agendas. Unless it is stopped, there will be no agendas to pursue.”
Having said all he needed to, the God Aroden afforded the group a pause to let the magnitude of the situation sink in before continuing:
“I must return to Axis. My liberation would have no doubt reached many ears and I must prepare what I can do aid you. Know that when the time comes I will be there for you – each and every one of you – even if the other Gods turn their gaze from you. I owe you that much, and more.”
A smile then, some reassurance in a sea of uncertainty and dread responsibility.
“Now, I assume you have many questions…?”