Rise of the Vernal Gods
Aeons passed as the mortal races were hunted, slowly and cruelly, to extermination. Civilisations rose and fell to the rhythm of the Soulless Gods' feasts.
During one such lull, a merian known as Gorob became perhaps the most famous of all mortals. He devised the creation of the Edifices of Power from which mortals could fan the spark of their own divinity and rise to godhood themselves, challenging the Soulless.
Though Gorob was the first Vernal God to rise, he could not save his precious home city and suffered a defeat by Illith. After that, Gorob wandered Lusternia, and the mortal people he visited variously fled from his might or flocked to him as their savior. In the ancient tongue, he became known as Gorob d'Varsha, which meant Gorob the Teacher. As the decades passed, the name of Gorob was forgotten, and so came to be D'varsha, first of the Vernal Gods.
The seed of hope for salvation slowly grew in the mortal races, a hope beyond just merely surviving the hunger of the Soulless, but a hope to overcome, to win for themselves a new life. The hope of safety. The stronger civilisations began to build their own Edifices of Power based on D'varsha teachings.
In dozens of city-states, some who were strongholds of one race while others held populations represented an amalgam of different races that banded together for survival; Edifices of Powers were also constructed. Hundreds of Vernal Gods rose to challenge the Soulless and the battles changed the landscape of Lusternia, as mountains sank, oceans boiled, and the very sky bled with blood.
Despite the overwhelming numbers, and like the Elder Gods before them, the Vernal Gods could not defeat the Soulless. In the end only nine Vernal Gods remained. They were known as the Council of Nine, and were considered the greatest and most powerful of the Vernal Gods. Sometimes they were referred to as the Final Nine or, sometimes, just the Nine.
Council of Nine
D'varsha the First
During one such lull, a merian city of polished coral spires called Glomborolum rose beneath the Amberle Sea. The city stood for several centuries underwater without being preyed upon by the Illith, time enough for a civilisation to establish itself. In this city of gleaming white and pink, amidst the silky sands beneath azure water, there was born the merian known as Gorob, who became the most famous of all mortals.
Gorob studied magicks and power. As his knowledge grew, he learned to design what he called the Edifice of Power, a structure that could be used to focus enough power and magic to challenge the Great Ones themselves. So Gorob planned to build an Edifice of Power in the centre of Glomborolum. It would be a magnificent spire of polished black coral, etched with runes and infused with all the power of Glomborolum.
Its construction was a momentous undertaking that would take decades to complete, but the merians of Glomborolum concentrated all their resources to its creation. But, with more than a year left to its completion, a warning came that the maw of Illith the Leviathan headed towards Glomborolum. Those mortal races that lived underwater were in constant fear of the day that Illith's maw in its travel around the globe's circumference would finally find them. Though the scholars of Glomborolum had not predicted Illith to reach their city for hundreds of years yet, her great teeth were sighted in the distance.
Instead of despairing, Gorob ordered his people to quicken their building. What should have taken a year to complete was done in a month, for Glomborolum forsook all else except the completion of the Edifice of Power. Yet even that was barely time enough, for just moments before the spire was completed, Illith crashed into the outer reaches of Glomborolum. With destruction raining down, Gorob stood at the pinnacle of the Spire and uttered words of power, while all the merian below channelled energy into the magical construct.
As Illith the Leviathan approached the Spire of Glomborolum, the magical working came to completion. Gorob rose over the city, his body expanding and power crackling around him in a fury. His eyes glowed golden, and his hands shaped spheres of liquid power from the waters around him. Gorob became mightier than any mortal had ever become. Gorob became the first of the Vernal Gods.
Throwing sphere after sphere of liquid power at Illith, Gorob was intent on saving his people from the Soulless One's wrath. And, for the first time since the Elder Wars, Illith knew pain. Her body encircled the globe and gave a great spasm, causing earthquakes to wrack throughout the lands of Lusternia. But Illith was a Soulless One, forged from the fires of the Elder Wars, and she would not be easily cowed.
She opened her maw and spat out a thick black miasma that covered all of Glomborolum and Gorob who floated above. Fighting against the foul corrosive ink, Gorob heard the collective cry of his people reach out to him as their life force was extinguished and absorbed into Illith.
Howling in rage, Gorob drew upon inner reserves that he had not known he had, and renewed his attack on Illith with such fury that she actually drew back. But despite this tremendous assault, Gorob could not vanquish Illith the Leviathan, and finally, he fled from her awesome power, demoralised and spent.
Tzaraziko the Enigmatic
Tzaraziko came to power early in the Vernal Wars and is counted as one of the most powerful of the Vernal Gods. She led many daring campaigns against the Soulless Gods, where her tactics would suddenly change for little or no apparent reason and, either through brilliant strategy or plain dumb luck, she always managed to stay alive and inflict considerable damage against the Soulless. Though little understood by the other Vernal Gods, her seemingly convoluted and brash plans were almost always followed because of this.
One of the most notable legends of Tzaraziko recounts that during a battle with Illith the Leviathan, Tzaraziko pried out one of Illith's eyes. The eye fell to the ground and exuded a clear liquid that quickly formed a small pool. When Tzaraziko began to reach into this clear pool, the flesh on her fingertips immediately dissolved. Rather than pulling her hand back, she quickly plunged her arm into the pool up to her elbow and grasped the eye. From that day forward, that section of her arm was a black skeleton with the fingers fused around a gleaming orb that was once Illith's eye. Tzaraziko's behaviour became more erratic after that, but there is no question that her power greatly increased. Indeed, she later masterminded the defeat of Illith.
Tzaraziko was a mistress of illusion and shape changing. Whatever form she took, however, was almost always female and, after her arm was transformed, could never hide the appearance of her skeletal forearm. During the last days of the Vernal Wars, she lost that arm in a battle with Almighty Kethuru.
Though it is uncertain which Edifices of Power raised Tzaraziko, it is generally thought to be either the Great Pyramid of Alin'dor or the Crystal Spire of Lancenti, both cities of which were destroyed early in the Vernal Wars. Interestingly enough, lucidians and dracnari each claim she originated as their own race, and this disagreement fomented racial tensions between these two peoples who earlier had evolved harmoniously in the deserts. The climax of these racial tensions, of course, peaked during the Taint Wars when the lucidian leadership of the city of Hallifax persuaded their trill counterparts to go to war with the predominantly dracnari city of Gaudiguch. The result of that was the closure of two higher planes of existence and both cities being lost in time. Some descendants of the survivors still search for the Hand of Tzaraziko, which many scholars believe lies hidden in the desert sands of the Skarch.
Klangratch, the Axe of War
Klangratch was raised as a Vernal God from the dwarven stronghold of Grimkeep, which was destroyed late in the Vernal Wars by Great Muud. Never forgetting his dwarven heritage, Klangratch appeared as a dwarf male with red hair and full beard, albeit about 5 times larger than an average dwarf. He invested much of his power into a mighty battleaxe that was said to be able to slice through rock as though it were air.
Though many of the Vernal Gods were uneasy of Urlach's unconventional means of using the dead as fighters, Klangratch early saw the strategic advantage of this, and campaigned with Urlach for many battles. Together, they finally overthrew Great Muud, though the battle laid waste to Grimkeep and the surrounding mountains.
Though Klangratch held no qualms of using undead as shock troops, he never allowed Urlach to touch the dwarves in this manner. Perhaps mistrusting that Urlach would keep to this agreement, Klangratch enchanted a stone that would immediately release the souls of dwarves onto the wheel of rebirth, rendering the bodies not able to be raised as undead. To this day, the dwarves revere this stone as their most holy artifact.
Shanth of the Quiet Mind
The Vernal God known as Shanth rose from the only Edifice of Power created solely by the aslaran race, a megalithic stone statue called the Claws of Liberty. Shanth was the quietest of the Council of Nine, given to deep introspection and contemplation. Appearing as a giant aslaran with jet black fur and dressed in simple dun-coloured robes, Shanth did not appear as the most formidable of the Vernal Gods. But he certainly was the fastest. Legends often speak of Shanth sitting as still as a rock in meditation yet suddenly jumping up and moving at a speed so great that he was practically invisible. Because of this, he was often called the Starleaper, as his aslaran followers would often boast that he could leap over the stars.
Shanth was a loner and reckoning force unto himself. With great focus, he concentrated his efforts upon Crazen, who had enslaved almost the entire aslaran race who roamed free across grasslands. Those that Crazen did not catch were driven to environments unnatural and hostile to the aslarans. Shanth began stealing slaves from Crazen and taking them to places of relative safety. Though never able to free many of Crazen's slaves, it drove Crazen into a frenzy and he gave chase whenever he spotted Shanth. The great hulk that was Crazen rolled across many miles of open plains, carving great ravines into the earth, pursuing Shanth, who always remained several steps ahead of him. Eventually, Shanth led him into a giant crater at the end of the world and there trapped him forever.
After his ascension to godhood, Shanth was hardly noticed by the other Vernal Gods. That is, not until Crazen suddenly disappeared and D'varsha investigated, soon discovering that it was Shanth and Shanth alone who single handedly defeated a Soulless God, a claim no other Vernal God could make.
Juliana the Evenhanded
Raised from a merian in the jewelled city of Climanti, Juliana the Evenhanded was primarily known for her ability to mediate amongst the various Vernal Gods, bridging common cause from often disparate or even hostile individuals. Famously, she brought together Urlach and Dionamus several times after each swore never to suffer the presence of the other. Though certainly never considered the strongest Vernal God in power, Juliana was widely sought out for advice and to coordinate campaigns.
Perhaps her greatest impact was organising the mortal races, helping each to see past the differences of the other. Several multi-racial edifices of power, and the subsequent vernal gods who arose from them, owe their existence completely to Juliana's working.
During the last days of the Vernal Wars, when all but Zenos and Kethuru were defeated, Juliana orchestrated a subtle plot that ended up in trapping Zenos within a icy prison. First, she arranged for Klangratch and Urlach to use their undead legions to keep Kethuru busy in the southern sphere. Meanwhile, she convinced Vestera to be bait to lure Zenos to the northern icecap where Juliana, Kiakoda, Dionamus and several other Vernal Gods laid waiting. Through surprise and sheer strength, they were able to force Zenos into a misty form that were able freeze and sink into the depths. The battle was not without cost, however, as before his defeat Zenos was able to consume several Vernal Gods, whose names are now lost to history.
Kiakoda, Guardian of the Green
Coming from furrikin stock, it is commonly held that Kiakoda was the smallest of the vernal gods in size, retaining her diminutive furrikin stature, though reports vary as to whether she appeared as a small bear-like furrikin or more fox-like. Despite her innocuous form, however, Kiakoda was the most powerful of all the vernal gods.
Not only did Kiakoda have the power of a vernal god, but she also drew considerable power from, and thus empowered, the forests of Lusternia. Though none of the mortal races, or even the other vernal gods, seem to have been aware of the fae or the great spirits of nature at this point in history, scholars have confirmed that she was in constant touch with Faethorn Realm on the ethereal plane. Most wiccans and druids believe she hid the existence of the fae in order protect them from the Soulless Gods, while her detractors (mostly nihilist scholars) believe she did so in order to hoard the power of the fae for herself.
Whatever the case, she was a force unto herself, repelling both Crazen and Muud in spectacular battles, which hurled them physically out of the forests they invaded. Though she was not overly concerned with what went outside the forests, Juliana the Evenhanded was able to draw her out to help out in several campaigns, where it was painfully apparent that her powers were diminished outside of the forests. Even so, she was looked upon with great awe and sometimes even jealously from the other Vernal Gods.
Vestera the Dreamweaver
Perhaps the most curious of the Vernal Gods arose from the edifice of power known as the Bubbling Cauldron in the Ghalphalshi Swamps, a predominantly mugwump community from which Vestera originated. Interestingly, no one is quite certain what sex Vestera originated, but certainly they never manifested such bodily conceits once transformed into a Vernal God.
Indeed, the form of Vestera was extremely ethereal and so insubstantial that mortals for the most part could not see this Vernal God. Unfortunately, this made Vestera all but ineffectual in direct combat with the Soulless God, and they were extremely vulnerable to Kethuru and Zenos, who shared this out-of-phase form. In self-defence, Vestera developed great skills of illusions, able to hide from the Soulless or creating diversions or false images.
Despite not being effective in fighting the Soulless directly, Vestera had a tremendous impact in the Vernal Wars through interaction with mortals, visiting them in dreams and visions, and inspiring architectural wonders - which included several edifices of power. While these citadels and strongholds could be counted as the most beautiful and splendid of the time, they were also able to withstand attacks of the Soulless, and certainly saved countless mortals.
Vestera is also credited for the development of the arcane skills of illusions and, most especially, dream crafting, for only in the dream state could mortals truly visit Vestera.
Dionamus the Healer
Along with D'varsha and Juliana, Dionamus also came from merian stock, arising from the White Shell in the lost city of Alabellalum. Dionamus was perhaps the first to discover the higher planes, making a connection initially with Celestia, which was later the inspiration for the creation of the Pool of Stars in Celest. Unlike Kiakoda, who kept the existence of the fae secret even from the other Vernal Gods, Dionamus actively sought and received assistance from the Holy Supernals of Celestia. It is unclear why the Soulless never attacked the higher planes, though it is widely believed that the denizens of the outer planes were considered lesser food as their souls were only half-formed as Dynara never finished creating them before she disappeared. Equally likely, the Soulless could simply have forgotten or overlooked their existence during the Elder Wars and later in their pursuit to devour mortal kind.
Taking extreme pity upon all mortals, Dionamus saved countless of them by either sequestering them in times of danger or healing wounds after attacks by the Soulless. Greatly revered by all, he was perhaps the most widely worshipped of the Vernal Gods. Because of his association with Celestia, he often took the form of an angelic being himself and many surviving paintings during that time depict Dionamus sweeping through the heavenly skies carrying mortal children in arms to safety.
Though revered by mortals, he was not as well thought of by some of the other Vernal Gods, most especially Urlach, the Master of Death. Many stories recount their open enmity towards each other, which stopped just short of outright violence. Perhaps if it weren't for the mediations of Juliana, there would have been civil war amongst the Vernal Gods - which certainly would have given victory to the Soulless.
Though Dionamus surely earned his reputation as a healer, he was neither passive nor averse to martial campaigns. Extremely powerful, especially when backed by the angelic hosts sent to him from Celestia, Dionamus figured in countless battles. Both he and Juliana are credited for trapping Zenos in an ice prison during the final days of the Vernal Wars.
Urlach, Master of Death
The name of the Edifice of Power that raised Urlach has been long lost and forgotten, but he definitely originated from orclach stock. While many other orclachs were raised as Vernal Gods, they took the path of their orclach heritage and became enormous warrior gods, expanding their strength and might. They were also the Vernal Gods most likely to perish in their first forays against the Soulless. Urlach, on the other hand, chose instead to channel his powers into expanding his mind and consciousness. In the end, his intellect rivalled that of D'varsha. He often appeared as a dark figure shrouded in shadows.
Urlach used his impressive mind to pioneer a method of fighting the Soulless, which was both unorthodox and greatly despised by many of the other Vernal Gods. He was able to capture the souls of dead and partially restore them into their bodies, creating undead warriors who felt no pain and who tirelessly fought past the point where their bodies could maintain cohesion. Even Urlach's greatest ally, Klangratch, would not allow Urlach to use the dwarves he loved in this manner. Thus, the majority of the Urlach's undead army were orclach themselves, though he was not adverse to raising the dead of other races if he came across them despite protestations from his peers. The orclach themselves considered becoming the undead a great honour, and called themselves Urlach's Death Guard. After the Vernal Wars, undead were not seen again until the Taint entered the world.
The other great innovation of Urlach was a series of multi-dimensional gates that he created and maintained throughout the land. He could move his armies quickly and precisely to either retreat or to reinforce. These gates were also responsible for saving the lives of countless mortals who were able to use them to escape the rampages of the Soulless, a fact that even the loudest detractors of Urlach grudgingly recognise. Both Urlach and Klangratch used these networks of gates to finally trap and imprison Great Muud.
The last known network of Urlach's gates was in Shallach, and was controlled by those orclachs who served the Holy Celestine Empire as holy defenders. When Shallach fell to the Taint, it is interesting to note that those orclach who succumbed to the mutations of the Taint degenerated into the pitiful creatures known as orcs, while the orclach who held their forms (and died) transformed into the most powerful of the undead lords, perhaps an indication that Urlach's presence is still manifest amongst the orclach.
The Final Working
Towards the End of the Vernal Wars
In the first skirmish of the Vernal Wars, seven of the Vernal Gods fell, but new ones rose as the mortal races quickly used the Edifices of Power to raise their bravest and greatest commanders to godhood. At first, it seemed they could not lose for two new Vernal Gods rose as soon as one fell, but resources dwindled and using the Edifices of Power became more difficult. And the wrath of the Soulless was awakened and what was once viewed as food was now viewed as a threat. There was no choice for the mortal races but to continue the fight, even if it meant they must cannibalise their resources and themselves to continue.
Slowly, the Vernal Gods succeeded in their campaigns. First, Illith the Leviathan was frozen in the icy depths of the ocean. Then, Zenos the Insubstantial was lured to a mountain cave where he was trapped inside by great magicks. Great Muud was driven and trapped in beneath the earth itself, smoke and steam rising for decades afterwards. Finally, Crazen the Greedy was driven into a pit and there was imprisoned.
But the powers of Illith and Zenos, of Muud and Crazen, paled in comparison to that of Kethuru the Almighty, who consumed more of the essence and power of the lesser Elder Gods during the Elder Wars than any of the other Soulless. How could the Vernal Gods prepare for such strength? They could not.
Kethuru's foul amorphous body began to bloat and expand, becoming so gargantuan that it blanketed the entire globe of Lusternia in its viscous, suffocating skin.
The Vernal Gods retreated to the defensive, having to create pockets in the body of Kethuru that the mortal races might survive. But it would only be a matter of time before Almighty Kethuru slowly absorbed the mortal races, and eventually even the Vernal Gods themselves.
Avechna the Avenger
Of the hundreds of Vernal Gods raised during the Vernal Wars, only nine remained at the end. No more would arise, because the mortal races could not gather the resources necessary to use their Edifices of Power. The nine gods met on a mountain peak to make their last stand.
Shanth the Gentle first suggested the Merging, a magical working that could have a chance to defeat Kethuru. But the cost would be great, as the last nine would sacrifice themselves in the undertaking. D'varsha agreed that it could be done, but not all the Vernal Gods were so convinced. Urlach raged against it. Tzaraziko feared it. Klangratch and Juliana were convinced they could defeat Kethuru in battle. But even as they argued, Kethuru contracted his skin and several mortal races ceased to exist.
There was no choice but to implement Shanth's plan and time was running short. So the last nine Vernal Gods began an elaborate ritual, each giving themselves up to the working. Their bodies became great arcs of power that rose over Mount Shalamar and met in a mighty column of energy. That column of energy solidified and became Avechna the Avenger, a merging of the Vernal Gods whose sum was greater than its parts, and indeed Avechna wielded a power that could challenge Almighty Kethuru.
Plunging his hands into the amorphous body of Kethuru the Almighty, Avechna created a vibration so powerful and mighty that Kethuru's vast body began to tremble. Not able to withstand this great magick, Kethuru screamed in agony and rage just before he shimmered and disappeared from existence. So the last and mightiest of the Great Ones was imprisoned out of phase from the rest of Lusternia, always close but never able to touch its lands.
Once the magical working was completed, Avechna dwindled into the form of a statue, high atop Mount Shalamar. Of the nine who sacrificed themselves to save the first world, all that remained were nine small stones, living seals that contained the remnants of power that kept the Great Ones trapped. And while all nine seals remain intact, never will a Great One rise again. So came to be the Living Seals:
D'varsha became the Seal of Knowledge
Shanth became the Seal of Harmony
Tzaraziko became the Seal of Chaos
Klangratch became the Seal of War
Juliana became the Seal of Justice
Vestera became the Seal of Beauty
Kiakoda became the Seal of Nature
Dionamus became the Seal of Life
Urlach became the Seal of Death
The Soulless Gods were imprisoned and the Vernal Gods were no more. The great cities lay in ruins, the Edifices of Power silent. Lusternia, once lush and full of life, was now devastated by the wars. Slowly, the surviving races made a slow pilgrimage to the Basin of Life, as it was known, for only there was some vestige of nourishment. And the slow process of rebuilding civilisation began.
For a hundred years, survival was a struggle. The first order of business was protecting the plants and animals, delicate resources that, if they were to perish, so too would the races perish.