You believed your whole life that Hymbria was your distant home. And that your mother sent you away to protect you from Kellid slavers. You were tiny then. Now, you can barely remember your mother at all– just her beautiful elfin face smiling with love, telling you everything would be fine. The note sent with you in your belongings made no mention of your father or who he was. But this note has become your most treasured possession, never leaving your breast pocket so that it may always be close to your heart…
In Pitax, the Tarnished Jewel, you plied the trade of music and entertainment, deeply desperate for attention and love. As you began to leave childhood behind, you were happy, you thought to yourself. Your life was content and pleasant, and that was good enough.
Until, one day, everything changed…
The second most important object entered your life. A letter that claimed to be from your father…
“You are Numerian,” the letter read. Its author explained that he had been looking for you your entire life. You poured over the words again and again, refusing to believe them, but all the more desperate to. “Come to Numeria,” said the words, “to Starfall. There I can explain everything.” The letter-writer left no name, but instead ended it with three words that rang like a thundering bell in your mind: “I love you.”
You were barely thirteen when you left Pitax. You tucked this new letter into your pocket next to its companion, your heart swelling with joy and pride. Hitching caravans and entertaining all on the road for petty coin, you traveled up the Sellen River and across the wastes of Sovereign’s Reign.
Numeria was your land, you were told. But the Kellid savages seems fierce and foreign, and even the sun seems to rain down more sickness than light. Diseases and deformities were common, and when the strange machines of steel and death darkened the skies, everyone hid and prayed for their lives….
Bidding farewell to the final caravan, you made the rest of the way on foot. You were so close. Your life would be whole again. You would live with your father and mother again, who loved you. You had tried to forget. But in your heart, you had never really given up hope. And it was all, at last, going to be okay…
You were awakened from your sleep that cold, dead night by an explosion of fire and screaming. You sat up startled, adjusting your eyes, squinting through the darkness….
Cloaked men were descending on you, but one of their number had popped with flame and the others turned. A striking figure with a wild mane of hair and magik trailing from his hands came running from the black and sent a volley of precipitating bombs into the crowd. Screaming, they too were decimated. It was over in seconds. Hardly even a battle.
Alone, the remaining figure, still thrumming with magik, approached you…
(What do you do?)
“Who goes there?”
Your voice trembling, you call out to the figure. He stops at your feet, his eyes seeming to shine with residual magik. “This was a trap,” a low voice growls. “They meant to kill you. Come. We must leave.”
(What do you do?)
I begrudgingly flee. “Out of the frying pan, let us see about the fire.” And follow the stranger.
Your body trembling, you stare up at the figure. He is older, tall and thin, with exposed armed marked with many strange tattoos. His mangled hair is long and dark. With a tiny voice, you finally work up the courage to speak again the words you want an answer to so badly:
“…are you my father?”
The figure turns sharply, his eyes still sparks in the black. “I am NOT your father,” he almost snarls. You jump at his abrupt emotion, fearing you too will pop with flame. “But,” he continues, suddenly more soft, “there is someone you’ll want to meet…”
“How should you be so sure, stranger?”
The man smiles. But does not answer.
You travel quietly and secretly across the waste for days. The man says very little and you carefully follow suit. One early dawn as you the two of you walk, you spot something strange on the horizon: a shaft of violet light lancing into the sky. You open your mouth to speak, but no words emerge.
“Home,” says the man warmly.
As you approach the light, you see it is a township, and the purple light fires upward from a great raised dome of blacken earth. You walk up the winding streets past steel and adobe buildings, not a plank of wood in sight. Led to a humble foundry, a young girl rushes from an open doorway and tackles the man with a hug.
“Khonnir!” she cries. “You’re alright! I was so worried.”
The man’s gruff demeanor melts as he embraces the girl. They both laugh, happy in the moment. After a moment, the man turns to you.
“This is Val,” he says. “Your sister. Your twin sister.”
“How? I…. never…. knew…” I appear dumbfounded.
The girl slowly approaches you, her eyes large. You both stare at each other, looking for any sign of familiarity or family.
“Hi,” she says finally. “What’s your name?
At the sound of your voice, Val suddenly brightens, her wide smile suddenly reminding you of a deadened memory– something deep in your gut. The young girl’s elfin features suddenly seem more pronounced in her joy. And you realize what this feeling is– she reminds you of that ancient of your mother’s smile. You embrace her, and weep.
“Is this our home? Have you spoken to mother or father?”
Val shakes her head, suddenly fighting back tears. She seems at a loss for words. The voice of Khonnir floats over you with the same low crackle as it did before, but now also the warmth and safety of a hearth:
“Perhaps you’d better come in.”
I walk in. “What do you know of them?” presuming the worst.
Khonnir sighs, and slowly beckons for you to sit.
I do so.
Although you hunger for information, Khonnir tells you what little he knows. He had known your mother for years. Her name was Handele, a woman for whom Khonnir had huge respect. When she became pregnant with twins, she fell gravely ill. Khonnir spoke very little of your father, but said that he’d grown mad and possessive, caring little for the health of his wife. After you and Val were born, her health continued to fail, and your father sought to do “terrible things.”
Khonnir shutters to even mention it, and details very little. In an attempt to save you both, your mother planned to secretly sent you and your sister away. Your father, however, discovered the plan before it could put fully into motion. On the way to the rendezvous, your mother and you, still not much more than an infant, were attacked by your father. Khonnir was barely able to defend your life. In the chaos, you were sent off on your own and Khonnir was forced to flee with your sister alone, never truly knowing your fate.
Khonnir escaped here, to Torch, to hide his identity and that of your sister. He had made a promise to your mother to keep her children safe. And that is what he planned to do.
He’d looked for any sign of what had happened to you, but for years found nothing. But then, intercepted a message from your father, seeking you out to retrieved, dead or alive, no matter the cost. And despite years of careful work and meticulous care to stay inconspicuous, Khonnir knew he had to stop them.
“Who is my father? Why would he do such terrible things?”
“An evil man. …I don’t know. I never did. I still do not.”
“He still seeks us. What can you show me about how to best those that aim to do us harm?”
Khonnir smiles. “That I can.”
Despite the initial hostility for your first encounter, over the years you spend with Khonnir, you grow to see him as a father, as he, in turn, sees you as his son. You and Val grow up happy in Torch, learning the secrets of Khonnir’s extensive knowledge in his Foundry workshop, and his tales of the world.
You become best friends with a boy about your age named Gerrol Sonder. He, too, lost his parents. The two of you become fast companions, partners in much mischievousness. As teenagers, Gerrol becomes more and more involved with the Ropefists, a local gang. You try your best to steer him from his path and he swears to you he is done. Though you are not fully convinced.
You grow into adulthood. You become a member of the community. The people of Torch are your friends, your family. At last, you are truly happy.
Gerrol, now a man, as you are, comes to you one day, nervous and babbling– not at all like his normal confident, devil-may-care self.
“Need to ask you something,” he says.
“What is it, old friend?”
“Well. You know that Val and I have been seeing each other for some time. And we’ve mostly kept it from your father. He is a just man, but I fear his wrath. But–” Gerrol pauses. You see his angled brow twitch. He seems to be holding his breath. He finally exhales. “I’m think of asking Val to marry me.”
Is he still a Ropefist? And what do I know about them?
You don’t think so. The impulses of youth are foolish. In Gerrol, the urge for rebellion was just stronger than yours. He was always more daring. The Ropefists are mostly thugs, a gang, hardly what you’d call organized crime. Though the true nature of their leadership or organization has never truly been known to you. Gerrol likely knows, but never told you many details, mostly to protect you.
“Gerrol, you have my blessing. But you must promise me one thing,” I say with gravity, my eyes peering as if to make this contract between our souls. “You must be done with any unsavory affiliations you may have.”
He instantly brightens. “Of course! Eru, those days are behind me! I love your sister. More than anything! By Brigh, you’ve made me so happy!” He laughs purely, like a child, from joy and nervous release, and you are embraced warmly by your friend.
“Not to rain on your fires, but you still ought to speak with Khonnir.”
He swallows hard. “Yes. I suppose you’re right.” Gerrol laughs, more the barking wit of which you are most familiar. “If he burns me alive, I want my ashes scattered over Crowfeather Lake.”
I jovially laugh. “Come now brother, I should not think he would leave even ashes,” I quip with a wry smile.
You laugh mightily together and go back to the Foundry’s tavern to drink and celebrate. After several hours for belting up his courage, Gerrol approaches Val and proposes. Bursting into tears, she happily accepts. Roaring to life, the entire taven erupts into cheers, led the loudest by you as they kiss. The drinking continues long into the night as you play song after song of joyous triumph.
“My fellows. This is an occasion for song as well as drink.” I removes from my pack a strange contraption, with metal pipes affixed to alabaster and onyx keys. Running under the pipes, a tube serpentines round my arm into a reservoir. I take some tea from the kettle and begins playing the “Chelaxian Charlatan.”
The next morning, your head swimming under the weight of the fiercest hangover of your life, you suddenly wake to a world completely and utterly changed…
The torchlight, the eternally burning emblem of your home’s lifeblood, has gone out.
“By the gods, what has happened?”
As you rush about the town, no one knows. When the torchlight first appeared nearly one hundred years ago, its dominant violet heat so extreme that even the mysterious skymetals could be forged in it. For a century, the flame has never gone out, the purple bonfire a perpetual source of energy and power for the township of Torch that grew around it.
I look for Khonnir, Val or Gerrol while making my way toward the torchlight.
You find your father tracking along the contaminated waters that run from the Weeping Pond at the furthest base of the Black Hill.
“Khonnir, my eyes do not deceive me? The torchlight has gone? Why?”
Khonnir is alone. Most of the traffic is at the top of the Black Hill.
“Erushin, my boy. Hello,” he says. “I don’t know. But I fear the worst.” He points to the ground. As you follow his gaze, you see a great mass of tracks. “A large group moved through here,” your father says. “And recently. Very recently.”
(What do you do?)
I gasp. “We must find Val.”
“Stick with me,” your father says. “You might learn something.”
I follow closely and sneakily whilst affixing my organ and readying my short bow.
Together, you follow the tracks upstream, seeking their source…
The Weeping Pond…
The placid-looking pool that is the Weeping Pond is set off from the surrounding area by a crescent-shaped escarpment. Set at the northern base of the Black Hill, no vegetation grows on its banks, and the waters carry a bitter stink of sulfur and other chemicals, enough to make the eyes water after spending too much time on the shore. It has always been unclear what the source of the water is, but the lack of fish and the taint of the water has dispelled much curiosity. A shallow stream runs southeast of the pond and finally empties into Crowfeather Lake at the center of town.
Khonnir stops at the bank and you cover your mouth and eyes from the rising taint of the chemicals thick and heavy in the air. Your father snorts a humorless laugh.
(What do you do?)
“What’s so typical about such a day?” I ask.
“Use your eyes, my child,” says Khonnir. Your father points to the shore of the Weeping Pond.
What do I notice? Anything amiss?
You bend down to take a closer look at the bank, the rush of toxins stabbing at your unprotected features. The host of tracks, you notice, seem to march straight into the pond and disappear completely underneath its murky waters….
“What lies beneath?” I shield my face from the sulfurous steam. I try and think of what sort of metals/materials that could survive such stress.
“Answers,” he growls. “Now is the time to be with your sister. I need to speak to the other council members.”
(What do you do?)
I take my leave and seek out Val. “Shall we meet somewhere hidden from prying eyes at sun down?”
“Stay in the Foundry. Keep your sister safe.”
That night, the council announces publicly its intention to reactivate the torchlight, despite even knowing little of the flame’s origin or source. Khonnir tells you little of what was discussed behind closed door. “For your own protection,” he explains, simply.
The next day, a hired group of halfling adventurers descend into the Weeping Pond, looking for answers. They are never heard from again. The following day, a second expedition descends into the fetid waters, a group of local thugs and roughnecks enticed by the council promised reward. They, too, are never heard from again…
The night of the second expedition’s failure to return, Khonnir returns home to the Foundry after an hours-long emergency council meeting.
“I’m setting off into the Weeping Pond myself tomorrow morning,” he tell you and your sister firmly. “It was unanimously decided by the council. I will be leading a small group of experienced trackers and survivalists. This is too important a matter to leave to mercenaries and ruffians. This affects the entire town. And if this problem is not solved quickly, it will attract the attention of….” He pauses. “…unwanted inquisitiveness.”
(What do you do?)
“I will do as you wish, but what if you don’t return?” An air of uncertainty pervades my tone, expected from one who has had so much flux in such a short life.
“Do not worry, my boy. I will succeed where others have failed.”
The next morning, Khonnir sets off with his party. Gerrol is among his chosen crew, his more unscrupulous days leaving him with quick and talented hands and blade.
“Take care of Val for me,” your friend says to you as they depart.
(What do you do?)
“Father, Gerrol, soon we will drink and sing of your exploits in the opalescent light of the Torch,” I say, smiling.
You decide to mask your fear with words of encouragement and Gerrol laughs heartily at them.
“Your father and I will solve this in no time at all. Khonnir Baine is mighty and wise! Failure is no object.”
Val tears kisses him and your father good-bye on their cheeks, and, your gut wrenching, you watch them become swallowed by the putrid waters…
Despite your fears and reservations, your father indeed returns by nightfall as he had promised. He tells tales of a strange, metal wall at the end of watery cavern. He and his men managed to pry it open and retrieved an odd, mechanical drone, more complex than anything you’ve ever seen up-close. Khonnir gives you little time to examine it, locking himself and it away in his Foundry workshop for further study. Gerrol tells you more of their journey in confidence, saying that although they found little resistance, he was certain he was being constantly watched by things unseen…
“Have you considered that there are forces unknown at work here?” I ask Gerrol. “That the clockwork you returned with is some sort of scrying device or other duplicitous drone?”
“It is no mere ‘clockwork,’ Eru. I have seen gearwork and magik, but this is something far different. Infinitely more complex. But I trust your father. The drone was inert when we found it. Your father will uncover its true purpose, I have no doubt.”
Do I recognize any fundamental principles or bits of machinery from the glimpse or is it all Greek?
You never get a good look at the drone. Khonnir shuts it away in his workshop too quickly…
The following day, emboldened by Khonnir’s success, a group of holy warriors of Brigh from the local church descend into the Weeping Pond. Surely these gleaming souls of clockwork and thought will find the root of this evil, you think. You cannot think of nobler men and women of spirit and skill. But by nightfall, no one returns from the depths below…
As the sun rises, Khonnir emerges at last from his workshop. He regathers his party and prepares to descend again. With the followers of Brigh gone, it seems Khonnir and his crew are Torch’s last hope. Each day the violet flame remains extinguished, the risk to the you and Val, as well as the entire town, grow more intimate…
(What do you do?)
“Khonnir, this town is my home. Please let me aid you anyway I can.”
“No, my son. This is too dangerous. Stay with your sister. She needs you more than ever.” Gerrol’s smile and swagger join in full form. “Don’t worry about it, Eru,” he says, giving you a reassuring slap in the shoulder. “I’ll have your pop’s back. You’ll hardly know we were gone.”
The frustration shows on my face. “I say these things not from lack of faith, but lack of certainty.” Mirthless, I crank out a grin more commonly seen from sand paper.
You worry too much, Eru,” Gerrol laughs. “You’re my best man. I’ll need you in top spirits. When your father solves all this, I’ll need you by my side for the wedding atop the Black Hill and the gleaming purple light of the torch!”
“You are probably right,” my expression easing.
Khonnir voice drifts to you from up the bank: “Gerrol,” it commands. “It’s time.”
Gerrol leaves to check his gear with the rest of the party.
As they prepare, Khonnir solemnly approaches you, much as he did all those years before, his wild hair now streaked with age.
“I am proud of you, my son, his voice booming with warm. “It has been a privilege– no, an honor, to watch you grow into the man you are.” Your father smiles. “I love you very much.”
I embrace him, a tear cascades down my cheek.
Your father holds you tightly, letting the moment hang. Then, he releases:
“Let’s go,” he barks to the party.
You watch as one by one, they slowly descend into the dusky, viscous waters…..
That was two days ago. Two full days, and no one has returned. You fear the worst. Val has become an emotional wreck. She hardly moves. She flits from states of desperate hysterics to simply staring off while lying in bed, immobile. The entire town now bubbles over with rumor and tension. News of the tragedy, as Khonnir feared, has now reached the outside world. The small settlement that you call home is now bursting at the seams with countless travelers and opportunists marked with greed or morbid curiosity.There are secrets in Torch and someone isn’t talking….The council has now doubled the reward for the reignition of the torch as well as an entirely different reward for the return of Khonnir…. Alive…. or dead…..
Torch lies at the center of a deadly truth, one that has been silent and unknowable for thousands and thousands of years. It is nestled amid primal cursed wastes and harsh barbarism. The destiny of this land struggles against creations that fell from beyond the stars eons ago. This is a place of forgotten science rising from ancient graves. The divinity of the cosmic shall be tested as you struggle against fate and time unless be overwritten by the forces of unfathomable power….
This is Numeria.
This…. is Iron Gods.