Chapter 0: The Death Bloom
In those old tombs, the saplings were discovered. The Jinmenju. Praised for their beauty, brilliant trees with vivid purple leaves and their ivory white bark. Coming in all shapes and sizes, from ones that twisted and bent like the humble bonsai or towered over all like the mighty oak. Across the planet of Qest, they became an overnight sensation, being planted in cities, in small towns, grown in homes. Being able to grow anywhere, from forests and fields, even on soil thought to never be able to support life. The Jinmenju were the new icon all around the world, even becoming a subject of study, to explore their mysterious nature.
All this praise and admiration was halted, upon the advent of the Death Bloom. The spring the following year, did the flowers of the trees bloom, polluting the air with their lavender pollen. Those who inhaled the pollen, no matter the amount, became infected with a disease that became known as Arborpathy. Day by day, would their symptoms worsen and week by week, would their flesh and bone turn to bark, sprouting branches of the trees that caused their illness, hair and fur to be replaced by leaves. All until the final stage, where they would they take root wherever they were and become a new tree, to spread more pollen and infect more people. One by one, ten by ten, hundred by hundred, did the beastmen of Qest fall to the illness, with no cure and the trees slowly encroaching. Where there was once cities, there were now forests, where there were once normal forests, were now sprawling endless jungles. Then, soon, monsters rose from the forests. Abominations, amalgams of unknown origin who would devour anyone unlucky enough to cross their path.
Qest was doomed, to die a slow death, to wait for the trees to consume the world. That is what the majority thought. "If only we never found those trees" many of them thought, "If only there was a cure" others thought.
Yet, they persisted. The beastmen from around the world gathered together. Both the infected and the healthy, looking for a way to rebuild, looking for a means to stave off the infection. The one answer, that halted the infection in its place, came from the most ironic of sources. The dark purple sap of the Jinmenju, the trees that harbingers of Qest's downfall, exactly that; the irony that the destroyers of the world were also the means to save it, was not lost upon the beastmen. While not a cure, this sap which became known as Life's Blood, prevented Arborpathy from progressing into its further stages. From here, did the New Era of Qest begin.
Thick metal walls were built, forests were destroyed and cleared, prescriptions of Life's Blood were prescribed to those who could acquire them. Beastmen from all over the world working together, from the Fenrir of the north to the Byakko of the West. Not immediately, but through decades of time and effort, did a society begin to form once more. As the world was reborn and society remade, so did the people of Qest. Those cure of their infection gained abilities that would appear as magic to an outside observer, bending the world around them with the power of the sap flowing through their veins. This art is what later became known as Versus and those who practiced them becoming what are known as Ascendants.
Through all this struggle, the advent of Versus, the implementation of Life's Blood, and the placement of walled cities around the world to act as Havens from the forests and the monsters, did seven world leaders step up and take the helm of the reborn world. Together, did they form the sole government of Qest. The all encompassing New World Empire and its leaders, the Seven Chairmen.
Under the watchful eye of the Chairmen, were the beastmen presented with a choice. To bend a knee to the oppressive New World Empire and live a comfortable life, in exchange for their freedom, or to live a life of struggle in the remnants of the old world.
But those who chose the latter were not going to lie down and die. New independent societies were built, able to live outside the walls. Factions like the Holy Divers that lived to hunt monsters or the tree worshiping Seekers of the Sun. Around the world, in a display of both independence and companionship, did they gather under their own flags.
But, be them under the gold and white standard of the oligarchy or under the flag of other groups like the nomadic Sleepless Sky Coalition, there was one thing consistent among all factions. Qest, what was once a planet divided among several species of beastmen, were now struggling together. Those who has once hated each other, were now allied, to survive and thrive in a world that had ended.
This is Qest.