The lands of the Renge lay, in a wedge, between two rivers. The Big Muddy separated the lands from the western wastes where the barbarian hordes roamed, while the Eastern Great Muddy divided them from the eastern wilds. To the north lay the great expanse known as the mists that divided the lands from the Great Northern Ice Plains. The Rivers formed a “ flying-vee” that separated the lands from the southern lands where the lords of Muspel braved fire to become unstoppable warriors.
At least that was how the legends went. It had been three centuries, at the prophet’s count, since the last barbarian invasion that had brought the last ruling house to the Renge. Like all ruling houses, they had attempted to stamp out every sect in the four lands through setting up their own pantheon of gods. But they could not rid the Renge of the line of prophets that had dictated its destiny.
Nor could they rid the four lands of the presence of the nigh immortal bard who kept the grand tales of the Renge’s history alive by retelling of the battles and invasions that had formed the empire that now existed. It was almost as if the bard had seen it all. The wars against the gods, the wars of the tribes, the wars of the mages, and even the establishment of that horrid instrument of evil, the Inquisition. He held the lands’ histories. He knew their secrets. He knew their dark pasts.
He could remember when the four lands had been a single, glorious empire that had allegiances to lands now almost forgotten by all. He remembered when the aristocracy ruled justly and righteously. He remembered when peace prevailed across the lands.
But now, that was just a shadow of the past. The great alliances were dead and the Renge was now isolated in its location, cut off from the seas that once surrendered their bounty. Rumors had it that pirates now controlled the southern, eastern and western ports on the seas. But rumors were all that ever made it this far into the interior of the vastness that included the Renge.
But who would want to come into the Renge anyway? Here, a stranger was at risk of becoming a victim of the Inquisition. By Hele, all were potential victims of the Inquisition. Even the bard and the prophets.
But the Inquisition was a tale unto itself. How it began was shrouded in mystery. Golmagug, the son of the Master Mage of the Dark Ring, had rebelled against his father, taking half the original Dark Ring with him. Golmagug had wanted to rule the Ring, taking his father’s place as Master, but had not had the power to defeat his father. Not even his allies had been strong enough.
The Master had banished his son and those who’d allied themselves to him, then made a ruling that no Mage within the Ring could ever rise to the level of Sorcerer Supreme. This would prevent, in his opinion, any rising to a position where they could challenge him. And the Ring had accepted this new law without realizing that it also put them at risk of becoming victims of a new threat to all: The newly christened Inquisition.
Golmagug and his followers formed the Inquisition to ‘purge the lands of impurities’ and to replace the Dark ring as a spiritual guide for the people. But Golmagug also invited disaster. He had come to a misguided conclusion that he could make a bargain with the king of Demons through a botched attempt to bind himself to the king. He had failed to realize that using evil for good was still committing evil.
And so, a darkness began to grow upon the four lands. At first, it remained within the core of the lands near Valthrid, the Inquisition’s new city. But the city they had taken as their own had not been theirs for the taking. It had been Drathyn, a venerated city of much history, But they had made war upon it and taken it from the inhabitants. Executing all who’d inhabited the city, The Inquisition had created a city of pure evil.
Yet, they had not been able to burn the holy tomes that had been sheltered within Drathyn’s libraries and university. These had been secreted out of the city and to the west into the Austryn lands. Autryn was the west, near the Big Muddy. Here, they would be safe within the hallowed halls of Yndarr’s great university. There, free mages could still teach the tomes’ contents to pupils who longed to know ancient magicks.
It was there, in Yndarr, that the bard resided. Yndarr was his ancestral home. Here, he had begun as the son of a bard and a nobilis. But his birth was before the aristocracy had given themselves that name, so he was merely an aristocrat whose path would lead him to reject the position that he had been born to for the one that had been in his mother’s family for generations.
Now he had a family of his own. Well, actually, it was his sixth family. He had watched his previous families go through growth, interbreeding with other noble families, and then decline. Five generations had come and gone over five hundred years. The remains of all six no longer resembled the once proud blood they had inherited.
Now, most of his inheritors were little more than drugged up puppets to a regime that cared little for human life. Even his current son had abandoned the ancient faith and become a mind-slave to the Inquisition’s drug. At the moment, though, his son was sober enough to try for an heir. But how long would it take him to abandon the child?
Bezreddyn shook his head. His son had already rejected his inheritance as the next in line to be the bard. That left it all up to Bez. Another five hundred or so years would be a cake walk. Still, he no longer wanted to live. The sorrow of watching his bloodline end so tragically over centuries had taken their toll.
The only thing that kept him going was his profession. Yet, even his life as the all-knowing bard wasn’t enough to make him want to remain in this life. But the gods that had cursed him for his part in the wars against them had known well what they were doing. They had known that his suffering would indeed be enough of a penance for his crime of rebelling against them.
And their punishment had done its job. For five hundred years, he’d had to bear the burden while he watched wife after wife die and generation after generation of offspring do the same. It was a burden he never wanted any other to endure.