“The Lifewell was the greatest gift the High Heavens had ever bestowed. It was utterly corrupted in seconds, the lifeblood of Lothien uprooted.”
– Loremaster Urvell
Stromgarde, in all its glory, was nothing compared to the sapphire waters that sailed alongside it. In its wake were dense forests and gluttonous creatures, utterly satisfied at the bounty that the river brought with it. Not all of its sustenance resided in the mundane, however – the water itself radiated with the divine magic of the angels. The Arch Angels who bestowed their gift did so with the knowledge that their followers would honor and defend it, and in doing so would protect their own immortality.
And so they did, until the mountains turned against them.
Orcus was no military general, but he was proficient in one thing – fear. The angels, in their hubris, had settled Lothien with no consideration for the implications. Blindly following their masters’ orders, they were ignorant to Lothien’s greater purpose. Crafted from a fragment of the Worldstone, Lothien existed in limbo between the High Heavens and the Nine Hells – a planar gateway between the two cosmic forces of light and darkness. Yet it was with ceaseless arrogance that these winged cretins sauntered in with their flags and concrete and claimed it for their own.
They would pay, mused the Prince of Undeath.
The angels were historically stoic, stalwart in their conviction. To erect a fortress in the shadow of the mountain was a calamitous mistake – and the Orcs would expose it to its fullest. Like a tidal wave of filth, Orcus’ spawn would storm the keep like a battering ram and exorcise the light from the west. From there, the shadow would spread east and thwart the arcane kingdom of Korenstradt, the forest stronghold of Dela’anar and the stronghold under the Skywall – Khromforge.
The same hubris that doomed the angels would not befall the Orcs, however. Stromgarde was the perfect target – once the pinnacle of the angels’ fortresses was besieged, the fear would spread like a wildfire. Nothing shatters morale like the mighty falling in earshot of those that are next in line.
Uther gazed out from the bastion atop the walls of Stromgarde. Below, his charges busied themselves with the work of the divine – the chapels were well lit and bustling with life, and craftsmen worked tirelessly to expand the dwellings upon which Stromgarde had built itself so many centuries ago.
Harpen, Falconrith, Tenatch. None of these towns held a candle to the brilliance of Stromgarde. With marble stone drawn from the western shores of Lothien, it reflected the radiance of the High Heavens with such gravitas that even the magical province of Loftenwreathe could spot the glint from across the realm. The boundaries of the province of Stromgarde were long and far-reaching, laying its hands on the crystal peaks at the base of Skywall. The city of Stromgarde was named after the province itself, so certain were the architects that they could recreate their angelic homeland in Lothien. Working from the western shores to the crystal peaks of the east, it seemed as though the city of Stromgarde would rival the High Heavens in its scope and luster.
A catastrophe, then, that the marble reserves ran dry, and the architects and builders were forced to reconcile their resources and build in tighter confines. Thus – Uther smirked in recollection – they were ordered to build up.
Having traversed this sacred land for millennia now, Uther had presided over much. One of the deified of his kin, he was praised even before the land of Lothien was created as a “bringer of the light”, earned him the moniker “Uther the Lightbringer.” He shunned titles such as this, keen instead to lead those he was charged with protecting to glory in manifesting and sustaining the light.
A grotesque, shrill laughter filled his ears. His senses.
Then it was gone.
Brow furrowed, Uther reached across his desk and moved it from the window. He gazed out into the darkness of night, comforted by the familiar sight. The Lifewell flowed relentlessly, surging its waters eastward towards Loftenwreathe as it always had. The moonlight shone down and painted Stromgarde in a different light from that of the day – something paler, more subtle. Paler, but no less brilliant.
That’s when he saw them.
Scarlet gems in the distance caught the moonlight too. An uncountable number across the river, staring ceaselessly. Uther’s breath quickened as he searched his mind for what this phenomenon could be – was it the deer or the cattle? A trick of the light? Surely the light would not trick us so…
Screams from the city below – the lights had not gone unnoticed. The sound of drawn steel was audible from all corners of the city as guards and soldiers of the light marched to the gates. The paladins – holy warriors who both served and protected the virtues of the light – led the line through the north gate. Hands extended, they loosed semantic summons from beneath their cloaks. Bolts of pure blinding radiance erupted from their gauntlets and fought back the night. The darkness gave way, but not to the comforting light that Uther had hoped.
The jade, luscious grass that covered the grounds of the upper banks was barren. An eldritch, palpable shadow that seemed to ebb and flow like swarming scarabs drenched the land that could be seen. Uther could not see any of the animals that so often frolicked in these parts, instead only cadavers that rotted among the creeping shadow of whatever this horror was.
Tyr burst through the door behind him.
“Highlord, have you seen-” spluttered Tyr.
“Of course. The light has revealed a powerful darkness, Tyr. Stromgarde has held its solitude for too long, it seems.”
“My men await your command, sir.”
Tyr saluted his superior as he uttered these words. Despite being the leader of the soldiers of Stromgarde, Tyr was as devout and just as any angel who could serve in his stead. His wings illuminated softly behind him, the rightmost tendril of these flightless gifts wrapping around the bejeweled greatsword which laid sheathed at his back. Tyr may have been one of the finest combatants the angels had ever known, but he was loyal to Uther’s guidance and rank.
“We strike now. I want three battalions pushing north to the Lifewell to investigate this shadow, and two more to guard the gate for their return. Any other soldiers you can spare must move to the other gates and stay vigilant. I will not have this darkness surround us.” uttered Uther defiantly.
Tyr’s chest swelled as he inclined his head. “It is done Highlord. I shall lead the three battalions and thwart whatever threatens the sanctity of Stromgarde. Long has it been since enemies of the light have tested my blade.”
“Indeed,” Uther interjected, “do not let your vengeance get the best of you my friend.”
With a salute, Tyr nodded a final time and turned to leave the keep and rally his paladins for battle. Uther returned his stoic gaze to the window.
All of the lights across the river were gone.