Emperor Joseph Frederick von Einhart the Third leaned back in his high chair and cursed under his breath. The subject of the documents on his desk was more than a little upsetting. It’s a good thing his retainers and servants were forbidden from entering his study without permission, otherwise he would have to bottle up his emotions to maintain the image worthy of an emperor. An especially difficult task for a young man barely out of his teens, but one that was both his birthright and his responsibility. His father had passed away suddenly a year ago due to illness, so the young lad had been suddenly thrust into the spotlight, regardless of his will or intentions. As ruler of the human-dominated Lodrak Empire, one of the three great nations on this continent, he could never be allowed to show weakness.
Still, he looked around the room, as if that would somehow relieve him of the burden of his post. The heavy wooden desk in front of him was completely bare, save for a few writing utensils and the aforementioned report. The afternoon sun shone in from the window behind him, providing ample light with which to read said documents. The floor was covered by a soft, dark gray carpet and the stone walls were covered by tapestries and banners - relics of the past.
To his left and right were tall bookshelves, filled with the lore, knowledge, poetry and history of his ancestors. The stone busts of five of those ancestors adorned the top of the shelves, looking all stern, stoic and regal, with well-kempt beards and stern expressions. A far cry from the baby-faced, blond-haired young man that was currently sitting in their chair. Looking up at the flat ceiling revealed an intricate mosaic that depicted several more of those dead Emperors during their crowning moments of glory, reminding Joseph just how insignificant his rule may turn out to be.
The young emperor sighed. None of those dead men were going to help him calm down. If anything, they seemed to press down on him, increasing the already immense pressure on his shoulders. He secretly dreaded having all of his forefathers stare at him day and night, but wouldn’t dare suggest having the busts removed or the ceiling painted over. There were many in the royal palace that thought he was unworthy of succeeding his late father and should be replaced with a more capable regent.
I’ll show them, he thought to himself. How dare that scum underestimate me!? I’ve been preparing for this position my whole life! So what if it came earlier than expected?! I’ll teach those cretins a thing or two about speaking out against the Emperor!
Joseph sighed again. Such thoughts were neither productive nor entertaining. He turned to the damnable booklet on his desk once more. He really did not want to read through it again, but he had to commit every last syllable to memory. His young mind had been schooled in the ways of politics and statesmanship ever since he was 6 years old, so there’s no way he wouldn’t understand the grave significance of the event it was concerned with. That didn’t help his mood, though. Even if the logical mind understood he had to read it, his emotions demanded he burn the file and be done with it.
Just the title of it was enough to ruin his mood.
A report on The Calamity of Monotal by Spymaster E. G. Allen
He had heard about it, of course. Every soul in the Empire had by now, and the news would likely spread to the whole continent within the month. He flipped it open and started reading through it. At least Edward, the Spymaster, for not dressing up the facts with pointless words and analogies like the rest of his court. Though perhaps if anything needed some flowerful language, it was this.
The city of Monotal is no more. Just as early reports had stated, the city has been completely wiped out approximately two weeks ago, on the 8th day of this month. Nothing of the city remains, save for a large crater and an ever-swirling cloud of dust. The estimated death toll is at least 8,000 souls - the entire population of Monotal.
“Sweet Teresa’s tits…” mumbled Joseph.
Only when he was alone could he allow himself to say such thing. An Emperor blaspheming upon the names of the Gods a good way to earn the ire of their faithful, after all. This common sense went double for the followers of Teresa the Hammer, Goddess of truth, order, justice and retribution. In all honesty though, who could blame the man? This report confirmed that the worst case scenario he dreaded with his entire being had indeed taken place. Four sentences in and he already felt ill, but he pushed on regardless.
The Calamity has also rendered all the soil within 6 kilometers of the epicenter completely infertile. The Druids and Shamans we consulted said restoration is impossible and the land will be left barren for centuries. Arcanium investigators say the cause is the same as the ever-swirling green dust cloud, a magical anomaly they’re calling the Rift. It’s playing havoc on the environment and poisoning the ground and the air around it with some unknown form of magic. Approaching the Rift causes one’s body to rapidly wither and decay, making it nigh-impossible for living beings to get near it. Arcanium investigators say they’ve never seen anything like it, but are currently following a lead that suggests it’s somehow linked to the fabled Calamity of Tol-Saroth.
No wonder they’re referring to both events as calamities. According to the history books, Tol-Saroth was an elven Warlock said to have lived about 430 years ago. The records claimed he was responsible for making an entire human fort disappear overnight through some terrible magic ritual. The exact details of the account have been mostly lost to time and the event has been mostly dismissed as being blown way out of proportion by historians of the past.
However, even lies have a hint of truth within them, and it’s the duty of the organization known as the Arcanium to determine fact from fiction. If those eggheads claim that there’s a chance that the two Calamities are somehow connected, then there’s a good chance that may indeed be the case.
Joseph shook his head to clear it of idle thoughts and turned his attention back to the report.
We have detained and interrogated 32 individuals that had witnessed the Calamity from afar- 4 hunters, 3 bandits, 2 merchants, 10 adventurers and 13 travelers. Their first-hand accounts all state they saw was a bright white light coming at them from the direction of Monotal. Over half of them had been rendered blind by the event. The Arcanium currently has them under quarantine, since the eyes of all victims glow with an unholy green light, much like that of the Rift. Neither alchemy nor magic have been able to heal their sight.
What followed then was a transcription of all 32 interviews wherein they recount that horrible day. Oddly enough, none of them had direct line of sight to Monotal, nor were all of them looking in that direction. Indeed, three of them were adventurers exploring a cave in the wilderness, yet they still went blind despite being underground. It would seem the Arcanium believes them to have been within the 6 kilometers of the city, and the facts support this theory.
Of particular note is a bizarre scene my scouts found along the Imperial Highway. They found what appeared to be the site of a bandit attack, but a closer inspection revealed it was something more. A small crater was in the middle of the road, filled with dust and ash that we believe to have once been people. It is highly likely they were used as sacrifices for some obscure ritual.
Investigating the area around this site led us to an old fort that had been abandoned after the conclusion of the Great War 300 years ago. The place was in ruins and looked to have been used a base by a group of bandits. However, the keep’s central tower appeared to have been knocked down only recently and excavating the dungeon underneath it revealed a malnourished and badly injured human prisoner. He was barely alive and highly delirious, likely gone mad from the living hell he had been put through, but his interrogation still revealed some useful information before he was executed for his crimes.
This man had been a part of a small-time group of bandits that called themselves ‘The Redcaps.’ He admitted it was their group that initiated an ambush upon a merchant convoy on the day of the Calamity. They had engaged the adventurers protecting the convoy in battle and seemed to have the upper hand, but were interrupted by the appearance of a tall, green-haired, red-skinned, four-armed demon. It is my belief that this demon is the same one reported by the Hero. As for the final fate of those adventurers, it is clear they, along with the rest of the bandits, had been turned to dust.
The Spymaster then went on to describe what he believed to be the sequence of events that led up to that point. To sum it up, the bandits and adventurers at that ambush site were sacrificed in order to create a weapon of mass destruction, likely the same one used in the Calamity of Tol-Saroth. That mysterious red crystal was then escorted by its creator and a certain four-armed demon through the main gate of Monotal, where they encountered heavy resistance in the form of the Hero of the Hammer, Bernard Samson, and his four companions.
Emperor Joseph had met Bernard personally and had a favorable impression of the valiant adventurer. How could he not? The mantle of Hero could only be granted by the Gods, and that valiant young man had been chosen as the champion of the Goddess Teresa herself. He had been given the noble task of protecting the weak and bringing monsters, evildoers and criminals alike to justice. His ultimate task had been to become strong enough to lead an expedition into the Blighted Lands to the far north and destroy the terrible being that called itself ‘The Boneshaper.’ It was a Quest that would no doubt go down in legend.
And yet that ended abruptly thanks to the Calamity. Bernard was caught up in it and lost his life. He was able to resurrect at the Temple of Teresa, here in the capital, by the grace of the Goddess. Truly a miracle only a Hero could pull off. However, Teresa’s divine protection did not extend to his companions, who were now forever gone. In fact, Joseph suspected the Hero himself had never truly come back either.
The vibrant, energetic person the Emperor once knew was gone. In his place was someone who had lost everything near and dear to him, a hollow, wretched man with eyes like a dead fish and no purpose in life. The monotone voice he used to describe the events of two weeks ago betrayed he truly wished he had died along with his childhood friends, and has reportedly tried to commit suicide at least twice since then. Humanity had lost a Hero that day, and from his testimony it was crystal clear who was at fault.
“Fucking twigs,” cursed Emperor Einhart, his young heart seething with rage. “This is all their doing!”
The prime suspect in this whole incident was an elven Witch, one who sacrificed dozens, possibly hundreds of people to create that horrible weapon. She had made her intentions crystal clear to everyone around them when Bernard had cornered her and was just about to subdue her. The crazy bitch then set herself on fire, cackling madly about how ‘The Elven Dominion shall rise again!’ while she burned alive.
“Those insufferable, inferior fucking terrorists! They’ll pay. They’ll all pay! Them and all their fucking kind!”
Of course he knew blaming this calamity on the entire elven race was ludicrous. Attributing the acts of an individual to an entire people was something only a madman would do. Granted, Joseph was mad, but it was more of the ‘I want to break something’ type of mad, rather than the ‘I’m going to make my horse a Baron’ mad. He never liked those elves. Even while his father was alive, he kept hearing of their so called ‘freedom fighters.’ It was always his suspicion that those fucking twigs were somehow responsible for his father’s untimely demise. Truthfully, he had wanted to invade their pitiful country and wipe out their entire race ever since he became Emperor, but his advisors and nobles were firmly against such action.
“Well. We’ll see how those geezers feel about our ‘neighbours’ when they find out exactly how much we’d lost thanks to them.”
The elf-spawned Calamity had caused the death of over 8,000 men, women and children. It left behind a stretch of poisonous, barren wasteland that was nothing more than a festering wound in the heart of the Empire. Even going so far as to crush the spirit of the first human Hero to appear in over a hundred years. The aftershocks of this catastrophic event would probably be felt for years, decades even.
Things had always been uneasy between the Ishigar Republic, the last remnant of the ancient Elven Dominion, and the human-dominated Lodrak Empire, that caused the fall of said Dominion. To say these two nations and their people had bad blood between them would be an understatement. But this unforgivable act of terrorism? There’s no way a single Witch was able to pull off a masterstroke like that without significant backing.
In other words-
“This is a declaration of war, isn’t it?!”