SOLACE AT GHORHELÜLL

It was a mystical age for the planet known as Terragard - a phenomenal realm of mixed worlds, where simple barbarism met with amazing technology. There was a type of spiritual energy in the multiverse known as Sol, which bound everything into the fabric of reality, like the interwoven strings of an unending quilt.

Terragard had been at peace for centuries, and its inhabitants were all rather unskilled in the art of war. Recently, dark cults had arisen across the globe, threatening the safety of innocent men, elves and dwarves alike. They had harnessed the power of Sol and twisted it to obey their every whim. With a slight gesture, these tyrants could manipulate their Sol so as to forge energy blasts and elemental weaponry. The strongest amongst their ranks were known to have summoned supernatural beasts or to level entire cities.

In a wave of burning shadow, they spread across Terragard, killing and pillaging along the way. In their wake they left only the stench of death. Not long ago, one of the smaller cults conquered the village of Brökheim in the lush countryside of Morhalla. This had previously been a place of farming and woodwork, but was now a nexus of perverted Sol. The cultists burned down Brökheim and constructed in its place a collection of crude shrines and monuments to their god, the villainous Reikthorn. Such was just one example of their ruthless, archaic insanity in the name of Reikthorn. Unlike most other deities, Reikthorn was a living, breathing warlord of half-man, half-daemon blood. It was at his command that the cults overwhelmed Terragard.

My name is Nero, and I am a nineteen-year-old male from the old capital of Terragard, the dead city of Wverdrald. Back in those days, Wverdrald was home to me, and I'd been living a relatively happy life there. Oh sure, we heard some pretty grim tales about the outside world (Brökheim, for example), but for some reason, we never felt threatened - until Reikthorn dropped by for a visit. Hundreds of his strongest, most zealous soldiers descended from the stormy sky, wreathed in black cloaks and leather robes. Their wrath was furious and swift. All the while, that fiendish bastard remained still in the air, far above the burning metropolis, watching silently as his minions tore down everything I had ever known. I had lived quite a cloistered life in the big city, and I felt as if I had been repeatedly stabbed every time another building collapsed.

I'm ashamed of myself for what I did that night. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. Boy was I grateful for all the extra sprinting training I'd put in lately. Looking back, I suppose the only choices I had were to stand and die, or run and perhaps, just maybe, survive a little longer. Still, the fact that I ran from those filthy madmen still disgusts me.

As I neared the edge of the city, where only a few suburban houses lined the sparse, empty streets, I heard some very nasty voices. I hastily hid amongst a few overflowing trashcans, out of sight of a few cultists who were standing idly out here on the city's outskirts. After my head stopped throbbing and I calmed my breathing, I was able to listen to their hushed conversation, for they weren't far away.

"At last we have taken Wverdrald. Finally, there is no place on Terragard where we cannot march victoriously!" said a thin, spindly, bald man.

"Don't be so sure. It's become apparent that master Reikthorn fears entering Ghorhelüll. They say it is protected by ancient spirits, and that no amount of Sol can harm them," explained what appeared to be a young elf dressed in extravagant, runic garbs.

"Who needs Ghorhelüll, anyway? Master has all of Terragard in his grip now, and soon the Solgates will be open once more," replied the bald man, grinning broadly. To this, the elf nodded thoughtfully.

I had no clue as to what they were talking about, and frankly, I didn't care. The world had gone to garbage in a single night of bloodshed. However, the fact that I might be able to find solace from Reikthorn's hordes at Ghorhelüll was quite appealing. The only problem was reaching such a distant land. Ghorhelüll was a large, wintry mountain range in the Far East. No one had ever bothered to try and plot it on a map, for it was so inhospitable and vast. As far as the people of Wverdrald were concerned, it was a land of nomadic tribes and ghastly priesthoods - a realm for the primitives of Terragard. Normally I wouldn't have any urge to travel there, but now, with the entire planet in ruin, I decided I would reach Ghorhelüll, no matter the cost. All thoughts of grief and fear were put to death right then, for I had a final chance at life. Surviving became my sole focus.

I waited until the cultists left before creeping out of the city. It was pitch black now, and I was not afraid of being caught, for no one would see me anyway. I ran long and hard, without food, water or sleep. I knew I was heading east, and yet I also knew that Ghorhelüll was over six and a half thousand kilometres from Wverdrald.

The next few months passed in a blur. Not once did I contemplate my lost home, or the chance that I would die the next day. I survived on whatever I could scavenge or steal. Once or twice, I disguised myself as a cultist and attended naval voyages from one continent to the next. Those intervals were quite insightful, for I learned a great many things about the armies of Reikthorn. I grew to understand what that man and that elf had been talking about in Wverdrald, and what I discovered both shocked and appalled me.

But at last, after crossing woodland glades, churning rivers, blistering deserts, pleasant grasslands and foggy swamps, I reached the foothills of Ghorhelüll. My quest thus far had been surprisingly uneventful, except for my occasional spying sessions. Staring up at the snowy-peaked giants before me, I felt a great surge of triumph. I was safe at last - and yet, still in danger. I needed to find some sort of civilisation, for I knew I was suffering from at least three illnesses, and I was seriously malnourished.

Already I had transcended pain and fatigue, so I determinedly pushed up into the mountains, hiking bare-foot on the cutting rocks. Despite my dire predicament, I could not help but grin. I knew, somehow, by some strange sense, that I would not only be safe in this land, but that the whole rhythm of my life was about to shift, and the darkness of Reikthorn would be challenged at last!