The harrowing future.
The world was still. In the wake of the disaster, nothing moved save for the beating of the arcane serpent’s own heart. Coiled and knotted like a rope, his spindled form merely hovered in the comforting glow of the detonation.
He was frailly built. Two sets of emaciated arms stretched out from a wiry frame, and a flat intricate crest fanned from his alien head, supported by a weak curved neck. A pair of small, vestigial wings remained folded at his sides, eclipsed by the larger pair that--until now--had acted as a cocoon.
The first few moments of his existence were sluggish, confusing. Several days passed before he could even unwrap himself from the coiled position that had ushered him into the devastated world. He extended one of his large outer wings, tentatively testing its soundness. He then peeled away the other, wobbling awkwardly. Frightened at the sudden temperature change, he collapsed both wings, huddling and shivering. Perhaps tomorrow.
The next day he unraveled his leviathan-like tail enough to barely graze the soil below him. The sense of touch was exhilarating, but nothing prepared him for the first time he opened his eyes. The sudden stimuli of vision sent him reeling, as brightness invaded his fogged oculars and sent waves of pain throughout his head. Instinctively, he shut them tight again. But by now, his curiosity had been piqued, and he wrenched them back open, the blindness fading eventually.
What followed was an insatiable curiosity for the landscape that surrounded him. The world that he saw was the only world that he knew. The gnarled, skeletal remains of the cities and towns that surrounded him in a deathly ring had always been. This was the true picture of the realm according to the Arcanist .
In the following days he wandered the wreckage, soaking in the scarred remnants of civilization. Each torn structure was a question, every charred figure was an inquiry.
These investigations fueled his hunger for knowledge, and he began to collect pieces of the deluge and examine them closely. Among the wastes he found scattered sheets of parchment and papers that had somehow escaped immolation. Though he did not understand the text covering them, there was much to be gleaned from the illustrations. The serpent began to build a picture of the area’s history.
But there came a point where the Arcanist had devoured what scant information he could, and he decided to venture outside the confines of the great city’s borders. His curious gaze traced the distant horizon, which sloped upwards drastically towards the northwest. There, a glint of bright light seemed to beckon to him. After surveying his birthplace for the last time, he launched into the sky and set off towards this beacon, leaving all he knew behind.
No matter the destruction, there is always a chance of rebirth.
In the time before the Arcanist's awakening, concentrated energies rained across the shattered landscape, seeping into the charred remains of life and industry.
Arcane particles sank deep into the crust, enriching the roots of trees and plants that had been sapped of their life during the blast. Currents of energy coursed up trunks and into the cells of branches. Reactions sparked beneath the surface sending waves of magic through stalks of grass, clusters of bushes, and monumental redwoods. Ethereal flowers erupted from cracks and crevices, and each green cluster grew larger and more robustly than the last. Nature had capitalized on the fallout, taking control of the energies to repair itself.
The rampant regrowth began to take on the guise of a colossal figure. Tree branches and leaves strained and twisted together into four thick, bark-covered stumps. A leafy canopy connected the four towers, until the burgeoning garden had materialized into a distinguishable silhouette. There was no mistaking what had been created: a wyrm of boundless potential, birthed from the leaves and the grass and the moss. The Gladekeeper had grown out of the ashes.
Not everything can be healed. The apocalypse had done more than spur the rejuvenation of flora: the fauna still rotted, left to fester upon the soil, and spoil in the dreadful warmth. Death leveraged the excess energy in another way. Where nature could not mend, decay took its place. Putrid film soaked and crept across the ground, enveloping everything in its path. Whole structures creaked and fell under the weight of the empowered rot that now infected them.
This contagion continued its wave of domination, scouring every corpse and every bit of food. Weaker plants and bodies of water fell sick with filth, and the cycle intensified with each new fallen organism. A runaway viral infection coursed through the veins of the world.
This scourge wrapped around the fallen, ripping away flesh and tearing marrow into a blighted tornado of destruction. Within time, the contamination had taken on a ghastly shape. It haunted the land in the form of a spectral drake, gnarled with veins, pustules and sharpened bone. This harbinger -the Plaguebringer- tested the worth of every sign of regrowth as she scoured over the surface of the realm, leaving behind a frightening scarred wasteland.
It did not take long for the wyrms to encounter one another; each was torn away from their polarized campaigns after sensing the nearness of their nemesis. While the land healed and fell ill all around them, the deities of nature and plague embroiled themselves in vicious, unending combat. Thick roots and brambles wrapped themselves around the Plaguebringer’s legs and arms, chaining her to the earth, only to wither and melt away at her defiling touch. Contagion reached and groped at the Gladekeeper’s every move, but she countered with razor-sharp torrents of bladed leaves and piercing branches. The land took on the hues of red and green as the two sparred and tumbled eternally. Hilltops and cliffs were torn asunder, replaced with lush tropical gardens or seething, stinking, bone piles. Chaos seemed the only constant.
Oblivious to the existence of the warring sisters, the Arcanist had reached his destination: an observatory perched at the top of a large heave of stone and grass. The sight of it was foreign to him, the structure was undeniably more intact than those that surrounded the scrap metal of the reactors below. Its metallic surface shone brilliantly up close, constructed out of polished amber-colored alloys and engraved with intricate patterns.
A massive, tiered scope extended from its domed roof, angled in such a way that a thousand different colors bent through its gigantic lens. The reflection of the rising moon glowed upon the surface of the curved glass.
Curious about the purpose of the construct, the young wyrm entered, approaching the ringed cylinder that led him to this place. Diagrams led him to the eyepiece in the center of the observatory’s central chamber. Tracing its connection to the scope, the Arcanist began to understand what he must do. Unaware of what to expect, he curled up on the floor and looked into the device.
Overwhelming emotion filled the Arcanist's heart. The familiar dreary landscape of orange and brown that had defined his creation was now a sea of black, dotted with a rainbow of color. A million twinkling stars enveloped his senses, and he backed away from the telescope in fear. But for as much apprehension he was experiencing, there was two times the excitement. He was obliviously traveling along the waves of galaxies and pulsars and suns and planets, absorbing it all.
And in this position he remained.
He began to inscribe his studies onto the reams of blank parchment he found preserved below the observatory. Strewn papers and notes dotted interior walls of the dome, illustrating star maps and constellations he found in his observations. The vastness of the skies above were always unveiling new surprises. He was determined and hungry to document it all: Every corner of space, every point in the visible universe.
After a particularly exhausting night of scouring the sky, he noticed something peculiar: a splotch of pure black between two familiar spiral galaxies. Consulting his previous maps of that area, he realized that it had not shown itself the first time he had chronicled the quadrant. A sudden wave of curiosity washed over him and—suddenly reinvigorated--he refocused in on this spot intensely.
The blackness was implausible, and--more alarming: it seemed to move slightly over the course of the night. The arcane one rapped his claws against the floor in deep thought. To move that quickly in one evening had to mean that the anomaly was very close indeed. Close enough, even, to possibly view with the naked eye. A natural account of the enigma would be extremely valuable information to have.
For the first time in a decade, the Arcanist left the observatory. Squinting into the setting sun, he traced a pattern in the sky towards where he knew the blemish would be, and there it was. It was as if someone had removed the stars from the sky, shoving them outward, exposing a hole in the cosmos.
He surveyed the horizon, trying to identify the highest point where he could perch, dismayed that he may have already reached it. From the observatory hill, the Arcanist could see a wealth of landscape spread out around him, though nothing appeared to surpass his vantage. A mighty silhouette faded into view to the northeast. Through a thick brown haze, he could see a tall monument, stretching skyward. A pillar. From its zenith it might just be possible to observe the growing darkness.
The Pillar’s true size became readily apparent the closer he traveled. Waves of powerful energy warped the air, making flight more and more difficult as he approached, finally driving him to ground. As he crawled to The Pillar's base, he looked up. The megalith towered above him, receding into the heavens. He could not make out its summit, and the notion of scaling it soon became sickening and intimidating.
He had to know.
Driven, the Arcanist reached out and gripped the Pillar’s craggy surface with one of his claws, finding handholds in the intricate carvings that decorated its circumference. Using all the strength he could muster, he began to propel himself upward. During his ascent, he never looked down upon the world that was now roiling with plagued lands and terrifying jungles. He was alone in the pursuit of an ultimate knowledge.
For days he climbed, eyes focused on the tightly-rounded horizon that was his goal. Mistral tufts brushed his aching body, and for several hours the young god was lost in a soup of dark, rumbling thunderclouds. He made his best progress at night, when the void was most prominent in the sky. It was growing larger, but he could not determine if he was getting any closer.
At long last, the Pillar ended. Digging his claws into the flattened crown, and with a final exhausting heave, he pulled his body onto the cold, unforgiving stone and collapsed. He slumbered, wrapped within the protection of his wings. The air at the apex was frigid, and an immense pressure pulsed at his temples, but there he remained until night inevitably fell.
The dark spot was now a formidable swath of the sky, and he could make out curious fluctuations along its edges. Tendrils of the deepest black spiraled off; however, there was something even more odd. Although he was closer to his subject, his perception of it still felt skewed. Was it possible that his viewpoint was somehow being warped by the energies emitted by The Pillar?
The Arcanist closed his eyes and focused, meditating deeply within the submersion of the magic emanating from the summit. He felt it shift, glowing, growing, and receding. The drake began to pull at it, each inhale absorbing more and more of the ether. He then opened his eyes.
It was much clearer now. The distortion that had obscured his observance of the void had all but vanished. He took a few moments to closely examine the darkness, soon discovering that it was shifting in accordance to his own movement. When he lifted an arm, smoky tendrils sprouted from the black cloud and spiraled outward in a beautifully fractal dance. If he arched his back, the blackness echoed and bent. This was communion with the heavens, a gift that he had only dreamed of. From this perch, the Arcanist felt he could command the universe itself.
He released some of his power in a stream of red and blue, drawing a serpentine line of fire across his body. The darkness shifted. He waved all four of his arms in different directions, painting the air with coiled ropes of light. The darkness inflated. In one grand gesture, he expelled magic in a dazzling array of explosions and patterns.
The darkness surged.
A low, ominous rumble pervaded the air, and the Arcanist became frightened, halting his display and seizing hold of the edges of The Pillar. Something was not right.
The shadow enveloped the sky, and the tendrils that had enchanted him moments before were taking on a terrifying new guise. Thousands of razor-toothed maws snapped toward him as the night was swallowed.
A harrowing moan rocked the realm. Startled, the Gladekeeper relaxed her jaw, releasing the Plaguebringer's neck. The defiling wyrm tumbled down a ravine, scrambling to right herself. Poised to lunge back into the fray, she froze in her tracks when another deafening groan shuddered over the canyon. The two sisters were silenced as they both raised their heads and witnessed the bleak canopy spreading out above them.
In the far distance, a beacon of radiating pink light pulsed in the clouds, illuminating the mighty Pillar on the horizon. Crackling bolts of thunder surrounded its summit, and each passing moment resulted in more disappearing stars. It was as if a mighty being was blowing out a billion candles.
Terrified at what this could mean, the adversaries fled in opposite directions, determined to preserve themselves.
This was not right.
The Arcanist cemented himself to the stone dais, gaping at the nightmare that grew ever larger, the moaning that rumbled ever louder. A sorrowful, hopeless feeling washed over him, and all of the raw power and energy he had so masterfully wielded was drained. He shook with fear.
The Shade continued the hunt, gaining speed at a horrifying pace. Beckoned by the arcane dragon’s ritual, the cloud of dread hungrily rocketed towards the world it had attacked eons earlier. The darkness sliced through the sky like a dagger.
There was nothing left to do. The young god crept to the precipice and looked down into the clouds. The perceived sensation of falling almost seemed a welcome feeling when compared to the null maw that approached. With one last look at the conquering shadow, he slid off the edge and clenched his wings tight against his body. The Arcanist plummeted as the first tendrils reached the bulwark’s outer barriers.
A deafening noise shattered the silent night, as the brunt of the assailing force hit. The immensity of the nightmarish Shade was overwhelming. The magical barrier, weakened considerably during the summoning, ruptured under the impact. The force of the collision sent devastating shockwaves through the thin air, and in one explosive moment...
...the Pillar shattered.