All of the heroes are dead.
Once, the world of Ereda was a rich one. Continents were harnessed by civilisations or lay as unknown lands waiting to be explored or plundered. Bickering tribes turned to prosperous nations that rose, warred, fell, and rose again from the ashes. Races fought for land and dominance, and either emerged victorious or were pushed into hiding in the dark corners of the world.
Some sought strength through force of arms. Others, from the will of the Gods, locked as ever in their own feuds and alliances beyond the understanding of mortals. Yet others turned to the schools of magic, power drawn from the very world around them. And some would harness their cunning and their intellect, developing technologies and building great devices, to destroy as often as to create.
The known world consists of three continents. The first is the land where humanity first sprung up, becoming a coalition of nations known as the Realm. Forged by politics and bloodshed alike, these disparate people rapidly became a power block, over five centuries, that would challenge the dominance of nations that were millennia old.
It began when the kingdom of Damryn, land of warriors and bards alike, set its sights upon the prosperity of its neighbours. Unparalleled in their sense of unity and faith in their heroic king, these people were a formidable force. The first nation to fall to their might was Lancereaux, the birthplace of chivalry. Calavria, the economic powerhouse of the continent and home of the Colleges of Magic, was soon enough brought under heel by trade sanctions and political manoeuvres. Not even the thick forests, stubborn people, or redoubtable war engines of gloomy Andermark could keep that kingdom secure. Sandy Ibarran, already under the heel of an occupation by the goblins of the Caliphate of Sahradia, was recorded in the history books not as having been conquered, but as having been liberated. Last, eventually, even the northern barbarians of Norlundar ceased being more trouble than they were worth to bring into the folds of so-called civilisation.
The Realm prospered under the leadership of the High Kingdom of Damryn. Trade flowed, borders were secure, and humanity found themselves safer and more influential in the world than ever before. They were on good terms with the dwarves of the Kordurren ranges, a sensible and religious folk who harnessed the resources of their mountain homes to bring wealth and safety to their surface-dwelling rulers.
Their southern neighbours, the goblins of the Sahradian continent who had been driven from Ibarran, pulled back many of the forces of their scattered Caliphate. They had long been a splintered people, their land so harsh and unforgiving that internal squabbles over territory and resources had been common until they had turned on Ibarran - but the goblins were not foolish enough to bring down upon their heads the ire of all humanity. So they stayed slinking in the south, contenting themselves with their lands not yet charted by humanity. When the Gods of both people rose up in their ire and commanded the deaths of their enemies, holy wars between the Sahradian Caliphate and the Kingdoms of the Realm would spring up over the centuries, Crusades from humanity far more common. But as a whole the Realm dismissed Sahradia as a land of bickering heathens, content with trade and gold and problematic only if they made themselves so.
The Realm had larger concerns from the great eastern continent, the home of the High Elves of the Iron Empire. A massive land of an ancient people, the High Elves were known to be noble, wise, powerful - and arrogant. Their dominance was seen to be threatened by upstart humanity, and the High Kings of Damryn were not men to bow the knee to anyone, let alone elves. It would forever be a matter of contention as to who opened hostilities.
The War of the Narrow Sea began shortly after the formation of the Realm some five hundred years past, and ended less than a century ago, waxing and waning in waves of ferocity. Both sides took and lost land, fought and bled and died, and though the peace accords that kept both armies on their own shores record the High Elves as the victors, peace stood at such a heavy price that neither side pushed for more tensions - or, indeed, relations. Cool diplomacy and greedy trade would be the communication henceforth.
Thus despite bickerings with the High Elves, or the occasional marauding from the goblins of Sahradia, it was the consideration of the Realm that a new era of peace was to be entered. Local troubles were considered surmountable. The dragon-slayers of Lancereaux had plenty of sport, and the demonic beasts of Damryn were kept at bay. The Norlish barbarians waged no worse wars than ever before against the ogrekin of the Yotunaar, and the Beastkin of Andermark kept to their forests, driven from civilisation. Ibarran kept a wary eye on raiders from Sahradia, and the Calavrians spent more time making profit from trade with the Iron Empire than fighting with them over resources. Even for the High Elves themselves, some equilibrium had returned to the world.
Then, from the far eastern borders of the Iron Empire, the edge of the known world, came the Legion. And the world would never be the same again.
The Legion and the Fall
There has been no event in the history of Ereda that matches the utter catastrophe of what they now call the Fall. An unstoppable, unwavering foe that marched relentlessly from the east, the Legion crossed the continents in a tide of death and ruin, scorching the earth in their wake. They did not seek to conquer, nor did they seek to reign. They waged a remorseless campaign to destroy all life, sparing only those that they saw fit to taint and turn into yet more abhorrent soldiers to march in their devastating invasion.
The Iron Empire of the elves was the first to encounter the Legion, and the first to suffer their wrath. Over a period of seven years the elves first sought to defend their homelands alone, and then made plea to the Realm for help. The High King of Damryn did not answer until the final moment, but even the desperate Alliance that fought on the Empire’s shores could not prevail, and was driven back into the sea. The Legion then marched into the heart of the tribal north of Norlundar and landed at the eastern coast of Calavria to attack the Realm on two fronts. The defence was futile, however, with the tribes of the North weak from spread-out settlements and numbers, and Calavria all but powerless from their lack of military infrastructure. Lancereaux bought time to gather the forces of Damryn, Ibarran and Andermark as the Legion besieged their cities, but was defeated against overwhelming force and, some say, internal treachery. To the south, Ibarran fell, and the dwarves of Kordurren had no choice but to seal off their mountain passes, meaning that from the north the Legion had no obstacle. Damryn, the seat of the High King, did not fall lightly, but it too eventually buckled under the full weight of the Legion’s forces.
One by one the nations and kingdoms that made up the Realm all collapsed in the warpath of the Legion. Refugees from across the crumbling nations fled to the west, away from their broken homes, separated from loved ones, desperate to avoid the march of the Legion. All that was left was Andermark, protected not by strength, but by being the last nation in their enemy’s path, far to the west. And when the capital of Fordheim fell, it was hard not to believe that all hope had not been lost.
The desperate survivors of all races and creeds gathered in Starkholm, the last standing city of the Realm, where King Constantin intended to wage a last stand of all surviving peoples. It was not he that lead the battle but his son, Prince Mathias. It was there that every man, woman and child that had lived to see through these dark times prayed, prayed that the gods had not forgotten them, prayed that there would be some hope left, prayed that this would not be the end.
The gods answered.
At the Last Battle of Starkholm, the gods themselves manifested on the battlefield to fight alongside the survivors, carving their way through the forces of the Legion with the power of ten soldiers for each one of them. The young prince planted his sword right into the chest of the Legion’s commander, but before perishing the Great Nemesis cut the prince’s head clean from his shoulders. The forces of the Legion were vanquished, turning to ash in the blazing light of the heavens as the gods surged through them.
The World Now
When the dust settled, the Legion were gone. Not the ferocious foot-soldiers, not the lumbering machines of war, not even the Great Nemesis Himself could be seen. The war, King Constantin stated with a mixture of grief and relief as the body of his son was brought before him, had been won with ‘the blood of heroes’.
Two years have passed since this declaration. It has been a time for burying the dead, recovering from wounds and, above all, rebuilding. The Legion cut a swathe of destruction across two continents, and even though Andermark survived the Last Stand, even that nation has not been untouched by their bitter grip.
The surviving people have gathered and rallied in the city of Starkholm, now the last bastion of civilisation. Many crowd into the streets and houses even though they stand fit to burst; others attempt to fill the surrounding lands, which are being farmed with utter desperation to support this bloated population. The half of the country that did not fall has become a haven and a shelter, full of people from all nations, all walks of life, humans and elves alike. Fortifications have been raised along the border, and the military remain vigilant against any possible threat - including the much-feared return of the Legion. The local dwarves have reopened the mountain-city of Baradzhur, much changed, eager to preserve their own security, but nevertheless an ally of the survivors.
National pride is an issue of contention when one’s nation has fallen, but nobody is keen to forget their heritage. Whilst some feel grateful to the Andermen’s hospitality, others still feel resentful and as if they are second-class citizens. The Andermen, in turn, are content to help, seeing everyone as in this together, or resentful that outsiders have turned their way of life upside-down. Some struggle to let go of old enmities and feuds, whilst others see the beating taken by civilisation as an opportunity for change.
It is the goal of all people to reclaim their homeland. But the bickering Allied Advisory Council, which once commanded the joint armies but is now ostensibly headed by King Constantin, find themselves unable to reach a resolution on whether it is safe to venture forth, and if so, where should be reclaimed first. Ought they inch out across Andermark, despite the many miles of forests across the land they could not farm? Should a bolder venture be made to Lancereaux, once the breadbasket of the Realm and possibly now the best solution to the finite food supply? Or even still ought the Council send troops to Caer Brennan, the capital of Damryn and once the seat of power of the Realm itself, to reclaim the heart of the High Kingdom? Could any of this territory be defended even if it could be claimed?
And even still there are those who argue that nothing ought be done at all, believing the Legion’s setback to be merely temporary.
This is a time when bold decisions need making by bold individuals. But, as King Constantin declared, the price of victory was the blood of heroes. There are no such bold individuals left.
Enterprising figures, however, remain plentiful. One such individual, Captain Erika Ascher of Andermark, a veteran of most battles of the Fall, has formed a new Free Company of mercenaries. Whilst the survivors of civilisation do their best to keep the peace, solve local disputes, and march out to recover lost lands, these are not endeavours that are guaranteed to go smoothly.
Ascher’s Outriders have been formed to answer these issues. To resolve disputes and problems within Anderian borders, and to undertake missions of re-exploration and rescue in the lands lost to the Legion. For whoever has the coin, the Outriders will drive out Beastkin troubling nearby farms, diffuse conflicts between local rulers and their foreign tenants, or secure trade routes integral to refugee comfort and survival.
The biggest coup has been Ascher’s securing of a contract from the Allied Advisory Council. Unable to devote troops needed for border patrol to beginning recover of lost land, the far cheaper alternative of hiring mercenaries to scout out settlements and territory the Legion scourged was proposed. Thus have the Outriders been commissioned to investigate and explore lost land, discover the fate of the people and settlements, and report back with a view that, some day, civilisation will return.
It is a dangerous lifestyle. But it pays better than toiling in fields which have little more to give, allows a lifestyle better than being cramped into city housing with two other families. There is coin to be won for the successful mercenary, all manner of lost riches to be recovered and, for those who pioneer civilisation’s return to the Realm, glory to be seized. For those of a more ideological bent, the Outriders might be one of humanity’s best hopes to recover.
None expect them to be heroes. After all, all of the heroes are dead.