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Snow. If there was one thing the lands of Aluvalia had an abundance of, it was snow. To a foreigner, it was the only thing. The winds threatened to throw you off your feet in their best of moods, and would easily do so if the two feet of snow didn’t anchor you down. Aluvalia was unforgiving. It would take anyone foolish enough to combat the climate for any length of time. Even their footprints would be gone minutes later.
Jadis-Sel spent every morning in these perpetual blizzards. As always, there was nothing to see. Even the white of the ground was hard to differentiate from the white of the sky. Today’s weather was temperate, all things considered. He had no trouble standing, a feat that seemed to be growing more and more rare these days. He stroked his beard as the nothingness stared back at him.
“Jarl,” a voice called from behind. The muffled voice of somebody yelling. He turned to see Darys standing at the mouth of the cave, where the rocks gave some shelter from the blizzard. “News, my Jarl.”
He returned his gaze to the barren landscape. “Another time, then,” he stated. He bowed slightly before retiring back to the cave where the sentry waited. The black flag that marked the entrance to civilization flapped through the storm. He had put this one up himself the day before. Even with secure tethers in place, flags like this one had to be replaced often.
The two men descended into the enlarging cave, Jadis’ leg muscles relishing in the freedom of open air as the snow was left behind. The door to the caverns was a ways down into the cave. “So? What news?”
“A messenger from Kitsuya arrived last night, jarl,” he explained. “She says she must speak to the council immediately. The rest of the jarls are already there, waiting for you.”
Jadis sighed. No doubt they would ridicule him for being late, while deliberately hiding the news from him for as long as possible. He was tired of these games.
Darys jogged up to the tall steel door as they approached. It stood well over fifteen feet tall, with no visible handle or lever. Instead, Darys unsheathed his blade and pushed it into a slot on the wall. He concentrated, channeling magic through the blade. Soon the sound of pistons were heard from within the rock. Soon, the door creaked open.
“Thank you again, Darys,” Jadis said once there was enough room to enter through the doorway.
“Of course, Jarl. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he saluted. Jadis nodded in appreciation before continuing on his way alone, leaving Darys to his post guarding the entrance.
After the echoing silence of the dark, torch lit tunnel, the cavern soon opened up to the colossal depths of the underground city. Aluvalia may have been regarded as a barren wasteland to most of Torreth, but Jadis knew from experience that the Luminous Hollow was one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Looking down at the city was a marvel that contrasted so heavily against the white, empty world of above. In truth, it astonished him every day when he returned from his morning walk.
In most of the underground cities of Aluvalia, day and night had no meaning. The Luminous Hollow was different, because the cavern wasn’t completely sealed from the outside world. Along the roof of the cave there was a large crack through which some indirect light could shine through. It illuminated the cavern, which gave the city its name, so torchlight wasn’t necessary for the better part of most days. It also allowed winds to flow through, which often provided a pleasant breeze.
Jadis walked down the widening path and into the city proper. The sound of music, talking, and the general scuffle of boots across the ground echoed through the streets and brick buildings. Most Aluvalians had long, braided white hair, especially in regards to beards that were, like Jadis’, long enough to be tucked away into tunics of cloth or mammoth fur. As for the women, they focused their time on more intricate braids. It wasn’t unheard of to see people from other parts of the world, here, too, but against the pale whites of the large Aluvalians, even a Kitsuyan looked tan.
A few people smiled a little as he passed by them on the stone walkways, but most who recognized him quietly avoided his gaze, stopping what they were doing and giving him extra room as he moved through the dark streets. A dead man walking, in some respects. He had gotten used to that sort of treatment, but either way he was glad fewer and fewer people knew who he was as thees days passed. Receiving sympathy had recently become a part of who he was, and it was intolerable.
The sound of a bell rang through the city, echoing across the distant walls of the cavern. It rang twice: the bell toll for midday. Jadis wondered how long the council would have been waiting, but didn’t quicken his pace. If it was urgent they would have taken extra action to ensure his haste.
The Clan House was the central structure of all Aluvalian cities: a large, dome building with several stories of various uses. It’s main purpose was government business such as maintaining streets, collecting taxes, or regulating the mines deep below. Council meetings, which were less common, were held on the second story. The third story was a garden: a place that was rarely visited. He walked into the building, guards saluting as he passed, and ascended the stairwell.
The stone room was already occupied, blazing torches placed on the numerous columns. Mammoth pelts graced the floors and there were a few maps about the walls: one of the Hollow, one of all of Aluvalia, and a larger, though mostly ignored, one of all of Torreth.
Six people sat around the table in large, almost throne-like chairs. Five of the other jarls were already seated, typically representing the largest and most powerful clans, as was custom. The repulsive Sathryon-Maw of the Bear clan, the raucous Rauvin-Bek of the Ibex clan, the laid back Cadock-Tir of the Timberhorn clan, and the ever silent two jarls, Thomri-Moth of the Mammoth clan, and Dagan-Pak of the Great Wolf clan. Jadis represented the Sellis clan, for what it was worth. The sixth seat was occupied by a woman only a fraction of the Aluvalian leaders’ size, and Jadis didn’t recognize her.
“There he is!” Cadock-Tir shouted. The others turned to face him. Cadock himself was a cheerful soul. He always bore a smile, even though his hair would soon be too sparse to braid. As for the other jarls, it seemed as though they had just swallowed something distasteful.
“Now we can get this over with,” Rauvin-Bek muttered.
“Did you see anything interesting on your morning walk?” Sathryon-Maw taunted, stroking his beard with an irksome grin.
“Actually, I did,” Jadis replied as he found the only empty chair and seated himself. “I found your humility trying to sneak its way back into the Hollow.”
Cadock chuckled at that. “You didn’t let it back in, did you?” he asked. “His clan’s entire identity rides on their unparalleled pride.”
“Gentleman,” the woman on the other side of the table said. “I would prefer it if we could speak strictly on the matters at hand.” She was obviously from the isles of Kitsuya. Her stark black hair fell straight down upon a pale blue dress, and she spoke with a high-pitched serenity that didn’t match the coarse nature of Aluvalia. She also didn’t quite fit into the chair they had given her. Jadis estimated that she probably weighed about a third of what he did, if not less.
“Apologies, miss,” Cadock stated. “We’re all here now, you may proceed.”
She nodded and stood, her new height reaching up to the eye level of the Aluvalian men’s while everyone else was seated. “My name is Takeya. I work in the Foreign Relations division of the Preservers.”
“There’s a ‘Foreign Relations’ division?” Sathryon asked, frowning.
“There is now. But please, allow me to explain,” she shot him an impatient glare. “This will proceed far more quickly if you do not interrupt.” Sathryon shrugged at that. She paid him no further heed. Clearly, she found him as insufferable as Jadis did.
“As I am certain you all know, there was an earthquake that was felt across the world about two years ago. The Preservers are now referring to it as the Rupture, and there is talk of archiving it as the dawn of a new Era. If it becomes official, we would be living in the Fourth now.” She held up a finger to silence Sathryon as he opened his mouth to speak. “I know what you are going to say. It may seem presumptuous to divide Eras by such a seemingly arbitrary and meaningless incident. But I am here to inform you that it was not merely an earthquake. The Rupture was a catastrophic event that wiped out the entire nation of Veritia.”
Jadis took an involuntary breath of shock. An entire people, wiped out. He could empathize to a certain extent, but he couldn’t fathom death to such a scale…
“What?!” Rauvin stood from his seat. “You can’t be serious!”
“I am perfectly serious, jarl,” she replied. “What’s more, there is an ethereal rift in the night sky, like a wound in the heavens themselves. All other nations would be aware of this, but your people are sheltered from the sky, and wouldn’t be able to see it past the clouds even if you were not. But it is there. It is why we have given the event its name.”
“If you’ll excuse me, Takeya,” Jadis raised a hand, voice calm.
“Go ahead,” she nodded.
“If all this is true, then this is not a natural occurrence as you say. Have the Preservers discovered what caused this? Maybe something in your history books could tell you?”
She shook her head. “Our speculations point towards this being of magical origin, but cannot take us much further than that. It didn’t simply destroy the land of Veritia. Best we can tell, the Veritian people are also extinct. The Rupture seems to have also systematically killed everyone with Veritian blood. Even the people that were living in other nations. Part of the reason I am here is to ask if you have any people of Veritian descent residing here or in any other known Aluvalian cities. I have already spoken with your Keeper, so I have already verified that there are none, as I suspected.”
“And you can honestly say the Preservers don’t know what caused it?” Rauvin asked.
“I can. All of the Veritian Preservers died that day. Even the ones stationed in Kitsuya.”
“How did they die?”
“That part I am not authorized to disclose, unfortunately. But as far as Veritia goes, we sent a team of researchers to investigate the area about a week before I left to come here. It will be some time before we get anything conclusive.”
“That tear in the sky,” Sathryon added. “Are you sure it’s not Verik’s anger that his people are dead?”
“We don’t know how the heavens tore like that, but it does seem to be related to what happened in Veritia. The Preservers tend to wait for more scientific evidence before they blame the gods for anything. It seems strange that a god would demonstrate his wrath by marking the night sky. But there is one last thing that I haven’t mentioned.” She sat back down, contemplative.
“Well?” Sathryon asked. “On with it, there’s no point in stalling.”
“By order of the Preservers, it has been decreed that no nation, under the exception of dire necessity, is to utilize magic in any capacity until the origin of the Rupture is discovered.”