The Time of Gold
Long ago, before the thinking races had tamed the horse or built the first cities, the rune-guardians of Ashen Empires mastered the magic of the runes, learned to control animals and plants and perhaps even weather... and then vanished.
Centuries later, the peace they had fashioned still endured. Food was plentiful, customs were calm, and people had no ancient hatreds to blind them. The thinking races — humans, night elves, orcs, and other folk — did not wage war upon one another. Wise rule, hard work, and brisk trade ensured prosperity. Knowledge was shared, dangerous beasts kept outside the frontiers, and all the land was a single nation.
It was a golden age...
But golden ages do not last forever.
The Time of Darkness
No one knows where they came from, the dark warriors. Suddenly they were everywhere, speaking languages not known to the people of Ashen Empires, seizing knowledge of the runes wherever they could find it. They used the runes to create items of terror — weapons, armor, implements of torture, objects that wrenched mind and soul. These runic devices corrupted the spirits of all who used them.
As the armies of Rune Warriors grew, so grew the resolve of the people of Ashen Empires to destroy them. The desire for peace, even the very concept of peace, was abandoned.
Lotor, a nobleman of Krythan — and later king of that region (once Ashen Empires was sundered into warring nations) — was the first great defender against the Rune Warriors. He built armies of his own, made peace among nations that had been founded upon strife, outmaneuvered his enemies, and gave hope to a world that had all but lost it.
And even though the war grew long and Lotor grew old, he found a warrior to succeed him as the hope of Ashen Empires. Talazar, the Sword of Krythan, a noble fighter no Rune Warrior could stand against, led Lotor’s armies to victory again and again.
He was a hero for all the world.
But such heroes do not last forever.
The Time of Ash
In time, the armies of Krythan defeated the Rune Warriors and assembled all their runic artifacts. King Lotor summoned his twelve greatest warriors, Talazar among them, and commanded them to take the artifacts far away — to hide them where the eyes of the thinking races would never find them. The twelve accepted their duty and rode from the capital with these items of evil.
But none ever reached his intended destination.
Each warrior — some after mere days of travel, some after months — succumbed to the corrupting influence of the rune artifacts. One by one their thoughts turned to personal gain, power, lust, revenge. One by one they abandoned paths of humility and self-sacrifice to prey upon the people of Ashen Empires.
Some became bandit-kings, leading armies of raiders into more civilized lands. Some became solitary riders, thundering through the night on missions sane folk would never understand, their names invoked only in whispers, only to frighten children. Some died, only to have their heirs accept their rune artifacts and continue their legacies of pain.
Some disappeared. This was the fate of Talazar, once the greatest of heroes. Those who saw him in the time before his disappearance say he was no longer a man, no longer quite human.
Centuries passed, centuries in which the land did not heal, the nations did not reunite, knowledge did not prosper. Beasts crept into once-civilized lands. Kings fought kings even when the rune artifacts had no part to play in their squabbles.
This was a time of slow, inescapable suffering.
But even times such as this do not last forever.
The Time of Renewal
In recent years, prophecies have hinted that a new era was dawning, a time of change and instability, a time when the ugly balance of the Time of Ash could be lost... for better or for worse.
Sixteen summers ago, in the nation of Krythan, a boy-child of Lotor’s line was born and given the name Lotor. He survived to reach his age of majority and this summer not long ago received the crown of Krythan, taking the royal name of Lotor II.
Not long after, military forces claiming to belong to Talazar began laying waste to towns and cities in the western regions. They claimed not to follow some descendant of the original Talazar, but the corrupted warrior himself, and tales filtering from those distant places say that he is now a demon, a thing of inhuman places and unknowable intent.
Heroes, men and women skilled in fighting, have become more numerous in recent summers, some flocking to the side of Lotor II, some joining the forces of Talazar, others seeking their own way in this increasingly turbulent land.
And you are one of them.
Your skills and courage are enough to make you the master of any little village, the champion of any petty nobleman... but that is not enough. The challenge this new era poses calls to you. You can tip the balance of power — toward Lotor, toward Talazar, toward some fate no one can predict.
This chance waits before you, but you must act soon.
For such opportunities do not last forever...