Chapter 11 – The Monochrome Rainbow

The desert that had glistened like a sea of gold by day was neither shimmering, or stagnant as night came. A restless wind was blowing through the field of unwashed bones still lingering untouched. Clouds were gathering, promising a chilling downpour.

A campfire in a flimsy tent. The group of survivors took refuge outside of the ruins, in the shadow of a pillar, for they could not know how long it would rain. As the ruins were like a pit, water could flood the exhumed tomb of the unnamed civilization. But there was no rain. The black clouds flashed and rumbled.

As Karma waited for rain, looking up at the thick, patternless, smoke-like cloud formations, for a fleeting moment he felt as if he saw a recognizable pattern. A black-grey arc. A monochrome rainbow.

Karma whispered under his breath: “Where does the light come from?”

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The Monasteries of Sharam

Under strict rulesets, men and boys attuned to the gods may study the Language of Creation. The limitations are extreme. Only some words allowed for study, for anything more would be blasphemous, a path to corruption. The monks of Sharam are taught to overcome their earthly desires, so they would use the Language only for healing.

But the monasteries are also safekeeping knowledge. The power that was explored in centuries past is held in books and scrolls at the monasteries inside of sections barred from but the most advanced devotees of the twin gods. It is this proximity to sin that inspires the monks to perfect their meditation, their prayer, their studies.

The church of the twin gods has strong affiliations with the royal family. This marriage of institutions legitimizes the rule of the family, as the church preaches allegiance to the state. In return, the church gains the privileged status of an official state religion. No other religions are allowed in Sharam. No other institution than the church may study the Language of Creation.

The monasteries used to collaborate with the Historical Society, but this relationship has grown strained. A growing number of prominent historians are disregarding the limitations set by the state. As curious academics seek deeper knowledge that could undermine religious dogma, the royals plot an intervention.

Chapter 10 – The Final Star Goes Dark

“There is no pain more excruciating than bleeding in a world so beyond reason that poetry is blasphemy. The prevailing order is foul! It must burn, burn and burn some more, until the three kingdoms are all ash!” Maron bellowed at his audience.

He moved his hand from his bleeding wound, opened his red palm, at the center of which rotated a ball of fire.

“I can now create worlds in my palm. Suns and galaxies…”

The group stared at the miniature sun, which despite its tiny size, lit up the gloomy valley of shadows that was the dig site. So deep the undead had dug, the expedition were surrounded by stone pillars and structures from ancient times. As the waves of light licked them, the runes on the structures began to flicker. The robed reaper wiped a runaway trickle of blood from her cheek.

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Backstory: War of Mountains and the Sandstorm

Civilizations advance each at their own pace. The ones without rivals do not advance. They remain on tribal, primitive level, regardless of the passage of time. But when neighboring a powerful nation, there is rivalry that forces development. The weaker nation is easily conquered and turned into a colony for the stronger nation, the slaves gaining some resources and learning from the conqueror. As time passes, and nutrition and conditions in the colony improve from having a social order imposed by the conqueror, the subdued colony will eventually produce thinkers. It only takes a few exceptional minds, who will observe the stage of development their nation is at, who begin to question why they should be slaves. Such is the relationship between the desert and the mountain.

The mountain men have been slaves of one master and another master. Despite a capacity for the immense building of muscle, they never could contest their magic-wielding lords. And as these nations so tragically always find the means to cause their own self-destruction, the revisors have never enjoyed true freedom, always forced to switch masters as nations have perished.

Then everything changed. A man was born named Mondan. He led the revisors on a quest to freedom in the harsh wilderness, where no mage dared venture. The ferocious beasts of the forest were a better deterrent to pursuit than any wall or army. Against them, the supreme upper body strength of the slave laborers was optimal. And in the heart of the forest, they found the mountains.

The mountain city provides an endless supply of a mystical ore to the war-loving revisors. Possessing no ability or affinity to explore the language of creation, the empire stands on its own by employing armors and weaponry resistant to magic. The heaviness of these armors disables all other races from wielding them. The bone-crushing weight is counteracted with rigorous physical training. This requirement, to match up against expansionist rival nations asymmetrically, has led the mountain people to the formulation of a military culture obsessed with martial prowess.

Power over history is power over the future. The revisors have no respect for the past, as their history is so rife with humiliation and abuse. Their story, if not altered beyond recognition, could shed light to the events of the world.

Backstory: Betrayal of the Alchemists

It was when the alchemists’ guild allied themselves with the royal family of Sharam, that war became mere sport to the aristocracy. The alchemists, once reviled for their sorcery, gained a privileged role in the kingdom. The creation of gold no longer banned by law, Sharam gained an endless supply of the scarce precious metal to pursue political aims. Expansion of borders became as easy as swiping a pen on paper.

Alchemists became not just part of the aristocracy. Their schemes eventually eliminated other prominent families, leaving none to contest their direct access to the royalty. The guild became generals, court advisors, ministers.

Gold empowered the royal family like no magic ever could. With the best financed army of the three kingdoms, there was no need to cower no more to the Revisor empire and their iron. The entire desert, and the lush forests that bordered it, were liberated in one mighty war. That is how the desert city became the third kingdom.

With power over gold, the royals were able to buy the allegiance of the astronomers, who abetted the falsifying of the star maps. How the night sky had looked in aeons past was buried.

Instead of letting the populations know what was coming, the royals kept many things secret, leveraging their knowledge in crafting plans that ensured their dominance for generations. But not all books could be burned or rewritten.

More brainstorm on the historical society

The society of historians is an anomaly as organizations go. Its members have no ambitions to leverage their deep knowledge of the language of creation. Instead, their goal is to perfect what they call “the alchemy of truth”.

The associates of the organization believe in extreme self-restraint in the usage of magic. Even when persecuted, members do not retaliate using their arts. They believe in a prophecy, that they will play a key role in restoring balance to the world, but only if they hold true to their vows until that day comes.

Chapter 9 – Poem to Lady Death

Battles between mages had a formula that had formed during the violent centuries. As much as the kingdoms attempted to quell the rise of unsanctioned speakers of the language of creation, new prodigies appeared constantly. But these men were often jealous, prone for one-upmanship. An unofficial dueling etiquette formed around their destructive engagements. As every spell had its direct counterspell, the element of surprise was often the tie-breaker between equally matched speakers. Secretly developed techniques that no other speakers knew of ensured the dominance of a magi. Without trump cards, every duel came down to chance.

Skilled speakers feared each other, as talent posed too much incentive to kill a rival mage and steal their research. Alas, the most important part of the etiquette was to avoid direct confrontation, until one had successfully forced an opponent to reveal the extents of their study. Nothing was more dangerous than a magi who concealed what they knew until the last moment.

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Chapter 8 – A Comedy of Bones

The putrid smell of burning flesh was everywhere, there was no escape from it. The carpet of carcasses stretched towards the far end of the sand valley to the other end, growing thinner from the sides, like its threads were unravelling. The killing fields were being devoured by the fire, purged from horror, only the pace was dreadfully slow. It was an absurd nightmare, more absurd than any maddened mind could conjure. To see so many battle-mutilated carcasses at once, the visage grossly clashing with what a mortal mind considered normal, your reaction would not have been to scream. Any man or woman to see such a thing, would have been gripped by awkward laughter instead. Charred ribs and skulls trodded randomly in the most awkward of angles, many stuck in the sloppy mass of other corpses, like skeletons having rough, bloody intercourse. The brush strokes were countless, the golden canvas of the killing fields was the stage for a comedy of bones.

The corpses posed not just a sanity test, but a physical challenge for those wishing to traverse across this red line. The desert had effectively been cut in half for a second time in its history. The indomitable colossus stood still on his post, unfazed by the carnage.

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Chapter 7 – Battle of The Burning Dead

Tarot stood his ground, whereas the royal army was a mess of vomiting men. The most physically fit, combat-hardened men in the entire kingdom of Sharam were vomiting their guts out as they dreamed their own bloody deaths repeatedly, but not Tarot. He had already died a thousand deaths and would die a thousand more.

Unshaken, step after step, he approached the giant that had crawled from unnamed depths. It did not breathe, nor pay heed to his presence. Curiosity, it showed none. Fear, it showed none. Its size and physique, the four tower-like arms protruding from its torso, possessed unquantifiable crushing power. None could say if a beast not of this world of such awesome stature could rip apart the very planet. But where it had punched the ground, deep cracks certainly showed. Tarot jumped over them, no heed to the potential fall.

A rumbling and cackling from the digsite poured into open air, like a sudden thunderstorm. Racing in the burning shadow of the colossus, the rotting army was caught on fire.

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A World of Two Gods: Beliefs of The Sharamites

The world is the handiwork of two Gods, a man and a woman. The man made the mountains, the oceans, the sky. The woman created life. Together they made a paradise manifest.

The language of creation was given to the most gifted of their children. Only they could interpret the words of the Gods and make miracles with them. While others could speak and sing the words, only few could alter reality with them. To shape rock, to heal life.

But blasphemous are the intents of men with ambition. Another practice developed from study of the language, the art of necromancy. The ability to manipulate the animate and the inanimate simultaneously enabled the raising of the dead to do one’s bidding. Limitations on what can be studied are thus many, for so perverse are the possibilities.

A great temple was raised in the honor of the Gods into the city of Sharam, built around the long river that runs across the entire desert. This lifeline enabled the warring tribes of the desert to grow into a civilization. Carved by the sword of a stranger, so the stories tell. A man who came from nowhere, wielding inhuman power over speech and the sword, cut the sand sea in half.

The people of this city, most of them, believe in the twin two gods. They believe that their city, made under the brightest star in the sky, is the birthplace of all creation. As the world does not rotate or require a sun to have light, the star has thus never moved and never will.