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“Previously, on Asheron’s Call”

Dereth’s been a busy place lately. In the last several months, we’ve seen such events as Tumerok invasions, Olthoi infestations, and Vagabond assassinations-it’s no wonder the Devs have titled the current story arc “The Time of Chaos”. But here on the eve of the storyline’s conclusion, something has become apparent: With so many things happening and so much backstory connected to it all, it can be easy for a player to become lost in all the comings and goings. So it is as a service to you, dear readers (provided more than one of you survived the last column…), that I present this, the all-new, special edition, digitally-remastered, THX-enhanced, semi-definitive guide to “The Time of Chaos”(with director’s commentary)…

“The Thing that Ate Yanshi”: It can never be overstated that Gaerlan was a major screw-up. He had a twisted Midas touch: Everything he touched turned to a steaming pile of poo. He went on an expedition to the Olthoi homeworld and got his brother killed. He tried to trap Asheron on that same world and eventually unleashed the bugs on his world. And, most recently, he tried to create a weapon to use against Asheron and the Isparians, but he blew up Yanshi instead. See, there was this sect of Undead called the Disciples of Blood who devoted their lives to the study of elemental magic. They discovered the means to solidify elemental energy into controllable forms not unlike golems. When they were destroyed, Gaerlan eventually picked up where they left off. But he wasn’t satisfied with a mere army of evil particle effects covering the countryside; he wanted to unleash a force so terrible, so destructive, that even the Disciples wouldn’t mess with it (no, not Enya): The Harbinger, a creature made from the combined powers of flame, frost, acid, and lightning. (What, no “heart”?)

Unfortunately for him, his spell to summon the Harbinger was interrupted when the vessel he had “acquired” for the creature (namely, Nuhmudira) escaped; the subsequent release of mana nuked Yanshi. Unfortunately for us, that little setback didn’t affect the Harbinger. It somehow created a body for itself and began to form on its own, even after Gaerlan was imprisoned by Nuhmudira. Eventually, the creature was defeated, but even months and now almost a year later, its spirit remains restless under the ruins of Yanshi.

“Harry Aerbax and the Chamber of Secrets”: Once upon a time, there was a Virindi named Aerbax. He was a very bright little boy… creature… thing, and he loved doing experiments on the creatures of Dereth. He loved making them stronger, making them capable of using magic, or just taking them apart to see what made them tick. Occasionally, his subjects would even survive their “enhancements”, and they would be sent outside to play with the nice Isparians. (Some of Aerbax’s most famous experiments include the reedsharks of Hea Tuperea, Oolutanga–a.k.a. King Bobo-and Martine.

Now, Aerbax was from a place called the Singularity, and it was a very bad place. There, change was intensely frowned upon, each “individual” was indistinguishable from the next, and conformity was law. (It was a lot like the pop music industry, really.) Aerbax and a few of his friends weren’t happy with this state of affairs, however. They felt the Singularity was too rigid, too resistant to change, and that it could eventually prove a detriment to the Virindi. So they rebelled and, of course, promptly got their masks kicked (with a little bit of help from us humans). While most of the rebels were returned to and destroyed by the Singularity, Aerbax survived. Around the time the “New Singularity” rebellion came crashing down, he discovered a mysterious energy source (along with another mysterious entity, which Aerbax dubbed his “mirror”) within a flux of portalspace, and his exposure to that energy somehow altered him, allowing him to deceive the Virindi into believing he wasn’t “tainted” and enabling him to return to Dereth and begin his experiments anew.

This time around, Aerbax’s experiments are even more extreme. In addition to his old augmentations and implants, he’s exposing creatures to pure Singularity energy, strengthening them while at the same time driving them insane. At the same time, he’s exposing other Virindi to his energy source, creating the “chaotic” Virindi (the ones that look like a cross between a pile of old rags and the Crow) that have been running-well, floating-around lately. Aerbax’s ultimate goal is to once again try to improve the Singularity, this time by merging it with the energy source; the addition of that much energy into the already-impressive Singularity would (in theory) make them unstoppable. Along these lines, Aerbax has recently shown an interest in the Harbinger, as he feels exposing it to his energy source may be a way to test the plausibility of this merger. So now one of Aerbax’s altered Virindi, Vincadi, waits outside the ruins of Yanshi, requesting Isparians to venture down into the creature’s lair and engage it, apparently to weaken it and one day make its capture possible. What would happen if he did capture and expose the Harbinger, or if he succeeded in combining the energy source with the Singularity, is unknown, but odds are it wouldn’t be a pleasant outcome for Dereth.

“Witch? Which witch?”: Nuhmudira hates Empyreans. Oh boy, does she hate Empyreans, and with good reason. From all accounts, the average Yalain (the Empyrean race we’re most familiar with) is incredibly long-lived, obscenely gifted in the ways of magic, and impossibly arrogant and self-centered. Anything or anyone too different from them is deemed impure or evil and summarily stomped out. (Case in point: The Adjanite priestesses of the Ithnaec Cathedral or, more famously, the mistreatment of Dericost descendants that led to the creation of Bael’Zharon.) Combine that last bit with the fact that we’re basically squatting on Empyrean land, and you can see where Nuhmie’s coming from: More than likely, the Yalain will one day return from their portalspace stasis, they’ll see all these annoying little people living on one of their islands, and they won’t be happy.

Because of this, Nuhmudira spent a lot of her time as leader of the Arcanum devising ways to resist the Yalain should they ever return. The barriers around housing, for instance, are meant to repel Yalain attack as well as keep out annoying salesmen. She was so intent on protecting her people from what she felt was its greatest threat, that Nuhmie pretty much crossed the proverbial line by taking up the Falatacot art of human sacrifice, using the energy released in those rituals to further her works. All this briefly stopped when she was imprisoned by Gaerlan, but after her release by a group of Sclavi (creatures who served the Falatacot ages ago), she pretty much went back to her old tricks, although she has apparently not yet taken up sacrifice again; where her current stores of power come from is unknown, but it’s likely the new lifestones Nuhmudira has placed across Dereth have something to do with it.

Like Aerbax, Nuhmie has also become interested with the Harbinger, though for completely different reasons. Since the Harbinger is drawing mana into itself in order to fully form, Nuhmudira believes that the creature could very well drain most or all of the mana on the planet, which, among other things, would leave Isparians S.O.L. in regards to combating dangerous creatures. So she too has sent an emissary, the Sclavus named Issk, to Yanshi to implore adventurers to join her cause.

“Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond”: Years ago, back in those ancient days when Diamond Golems were evil incarnate and Hoary Robes were white gold, a mysterious figure softly crept through the quiet shadows of AC lore, a man only known as Oswald, so-called “The Vagabond King”. Among other things, Oswald was probably the greatest assassin Dereth had ever seen. Somehow, Oswald was capable of circumventing the magics that bond a person’s soul to a particular Lifestone, allowing the vagabond to permanently kill whomever he chose, and he put this skill to great use; it was Oswald that killed the semi-friendly Banderling named Gertarh, depriving the world of the creature’s legendary daggers (Oswald: The human nerf). But just as quietly as he entered the public stage, Oswald disappeared, remaining missing in action for years. Until just recently.

One patch day, Jaleh al-Thani, the self-appointed mayor of Ayan Baqur, turned up missing. After following countless leads and clues, adventurers discovered that Jaleh had been kidnapped and executed by the returning Oswald in response to the breaking of some thief’s code or somesuch by the former. With mystical knowledge obtained from a secret source, Oswald was able to use the essence released by sacrificing Jaleh to alter himself in some as-yet unseen manner. That source was apparently Nuhmudira, now using the vagabond to do her dirty work.

Even more recently, Oswald was approached by a mysterious (and likely non-human) individual who wished to obtain the secrets of Oswald’s interfering with Asheron’s protection. Nuhmudira responded by doubling the man’s offer, hoping to protect her people. Now it appears that Oswald will still tamper with the various magics governing Isparian life and death, but what the exact consequences will be are unknown.

“Got Rok?”: The “tailless” Tumeroks have been a thorn in the side of Isparians pretty much since the latter’s escape from the Olthoi; the massacre at Holtburg and the perpetual siege of Dryreach are two of the earliest major events in the AC storyline. At first, the Tumerok were little more than goons for the Virindi, the Virindi having altered the Hea tribe of Tonk to appear more human. After recent events involving the Virindi, especially the New Singularity rebellion and Aerbax’s recent episodes, the group of Hea on mainland Dereth finally grew tired of being lapdogs to the Singularity-spawned creatures, and so they decided to rebel.

The Gotrok (rebel Lugians) also were under a unique arrangement with the Virindi; in exchange for mining the magic-absorbing mineral Chorizite (the key component in Hollow Minions), the Lugians would be provided with refined Chorizite to use in creating their own Hollow Weapons (and apparently armor, if pre-patch Raiders are anything to go by). Like the Tumeroks, though, they decided to rebel.

Now both races have formed an alliance, but instead of striking against their former masters, they’ve decided to come after the creatures that have caused both sides the most annoyance and harm over the years: Isparians. Over the last several months, the alliance has reinforced old Tumerok and Lugian installations across Dereth, as well as establishing new fortresses. A siege of combined Gotrok/Tumerok forces has also laid siege to the Direland fort Tethana in recent months. And in even more recent times, the alliance forces have even brazenly attacked towns in Osteth, including Lin and the New Aluvian capital of Cragstone. With who-knows-how-many fierce forces making up their ranks, there’s no telling when this new war will end-or if it ever will end.

“A (BIG) Bug’s Life”: Remember what I said earlier about Yalain being arrogant S.O.B.s? Well, probably the worst in that regard (and definitely the most powerful) was Emperor Kellin II. He wasn’t satisfied with whatever heights his empire had already reached. He wanted more; he wanted a means with which to make himself and his people unstoppable. Enter the Olthoi. Upon discovery of an alien race of vicious, formidable insects, Kellin was intrigued, and, obviously having never seen any of the Alien movies, he sent expeditions to their world to capture specimens, with the hope of one day controlling legions of the little hellcrickets.

It was on one of these expeditions that Asheron was trapped on the Olthoi homeworld by Gaerlan. While he was eventually able to escape, for the short while he was imprisoned, Asheron had to engage a legion of Olthoi, including a very powerful Olthoi Queen. That battle left Asheron drained and the Queen with both a chink in her armor and a chip on her shoulder. That Queen would eventually be brought to the Knorr Lyceum by the Emperor’s troops for experimentation and study.

One day, the Queen recovered enough to call to her minions back on the homeworld. Thanks to some bad luck and (even worse) Gaerlan luck, countless Olthoi poured through onto Auberean with no way of stopping them. Of course, they would go on to conquer the entire planet and send what was left of the Yalain into portalspace exile.

Fast-forward a few centuries, and it comes to everyone’s (and particularly Asheron’s) attention that that original Queen was still alive. Years of stewing hatred towards the mage, as well as the knowledge that two of her strongest children along with countless lesser Olthoi were slain recently, has left her even more enraged than before. Now all the Olthoi (including the Marae Lassel and Dereth broods, as well as those of the “Prime Queen”) have focused their attentions on the Isparians and Asheron. Several broods have laid siege to Asheron’s Island the last several weeks, while on the mainland old hives have been reinvigorated and new ones established. What’s worse, Asheron has revealed that the broods possess a breed of Olthoi capable of interfering with the flow of mana in their vicinity, effectively killing any magic in their radius; it was most likely these Olthoi that led to the downfall of the magic-using Empyrean.

And, of course, somewhere out (or under) there, the Prime Queen waits and watches, readying to strike back at all the puny creatures that have made her and her children suffer over the ages.

* * *

Needless to say, we’ve had a lot to keep us occupied these last few months. However, the true terror isn’t in the conflicts we now face, but in those yet to come. The Renegades’ attacks grow intensity almost by the day; Nuhmudira and Aerbax are each looking, in their own way, to tamper with what amounts to a god sleeping beneath the soil, the Olthoi are on the verge of pouring from their nests and blanketing Dereth in a tide of darkness, and the seed Nuhmudira and Oswald have planted will soon bear very pink fruit. Yes, we’ve been through a lot during this “Time of Chaos”. But the worst, I fear, is yet to come.

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