In the Cities of the Dead
In the Cities of the Dead
The land had a name once, the elders say, but in the Silent Years the names of many things were lost. When a people have little on their minds save survival through the night, the niceties of naming and mapping and writing matters down in books fall by the wayside. And so it has been these many years—some say five hundred, some say seven, some still more than that. There are stories, though, told by firelight through the long evenings and passed from parents to their young over the generations.
First, there was the Empire. It, too, had a name that now is lost, though all agree that it was led by the race of Man. Its great cities of thousands dotted the land, defended by mighty armies. Masters of magic and warcraft rose to legendary heights of skill under the Emperor’s aegis, and within the walls of its capitals scholars and artisans pursued the limits of their learning as well. It was a golden age, the elders said, when all seemed possible.
And then came the plague.
The Falling Sickness is what most call it. Though none are left who saw its effects, the terror of the sickness lives still. The stories of old say it came suddenly and unannounced; its victims simply died where they stood, with no fever or pox or cough to mark the afflicted from the healthy. It spread like flame in dry grass. Whole cities died in days.
The survivors fled into the countryside as small bands of refugees, each of many kinds and races, who by some turn of fate were unaffected by the Falling Sickness. Each such band lived in terror of outsiders, suspicious of anyone who might carry the plague into the relative safety of their tribe. And so the Empire was shattered into dust, and its remains were blown across the land.
The Falling Sickness was only a near-complete disaster, however. For it did not discriminate amongst its victims, and it spread not only among the civilized races, but also swung its reaping blade through the fell tribes of the caverns and marshes at the fringes of the empire, the raiders and slavers who had once plagued the trade routes and the far outposts of the Emperor’s dominion. The Gobeleh-minh, the Kobodosz, and the Sons of Orc all dropped dead by the thousands just as their enemies had, so war and conquest did not follow the calamity.
But as the land lay quiet, mourning its losses, the goblins and kobolds and orcs—as they are named by Men—renewed their numbers far faster than the civilized folk. And now, once again, there are refugees fleeing across the plains, bearing tales not of sickness but of slaughter and torture, plunder and ruin. They say that the goblins are venturing into the long-abandoned cities where the plague began, sending in slaves to gather up tools, armor and weapons. They say that the goblins seek to capture those few whose fathers passed down to them the crafts of building and smithing.
They say that war is coming.