Protecting the Shield
Welcome to the Void!
Sundered Skies was originally a prison. Eons ago, a battle was fought against the immortal Demon King and his hosts. Five heroic mortals — the champions of the five great races — with the aid of the gods, defeated the demonic horde and cut down their king. They removed his indestructible heart and threw his body back into the Abyss. But this victory was only temporary. If the undying heart should be recaptured and returned to the comatose King, he would awaken with a vengeful rage, and lead his demonic army again. The victorious heroes hatched a desperate plan to hide the heart away for all time..
THE HIDDEN HEART
Mortals who had worshiped the Demon King were punished by the gods. Their world was destroyed and reformed around the heart, which spun within its hollow center. Their souls were used to construct a barrier — a Soulshield — veiling the newly formed world, which was called Heartland.
Their soulless bodies worked tirelessly, maintaining fortresses and cities in readiness, should Heartland be discovered by searching demons. The five heroes who defeated the Demon King made the ultimate sacrifice—they each surrendered their mortal bodies and allowed their souls to be placed at key points within the Soulshield, cementing and strengthening it. These five Souls were the key to the maintenance of the Soulshield and the protection of the Demon King’s heart.
Millennia passed peacefully, and most forgot the danger as the past became myth. When it finally came, the attack surprised everyone. A meager force rallied to meet the demonic threat, yet it seemed to be enough—the fiends’ attack was driven back and apparently defeated. Then disaster struck. The first attack had been merely a diversion. The true assault was more spiritual than physical and much harder to resist. While the battle raged, demon sorcerers completed a powerful, profane ritual, and sucked Heartland into the Abyss.
The Heart, reacting to the proximity of its body, beat once and sundered the world around it, killing millions. Only through the efforts of the gods, already weakened by battle and now cut off from the source of most of their power, were any mortals able to survive at all. The gods poured their power into the Soulshield in an effort to save it, one even going so far as to sacrifice her immortal life to prevent a total collapse.
Those remaining paid a heavy price—the deities found they were forever trapped within this new world, this Sundered Sky. The ghost of the dead goddess was also trapped within the Soulshield, unable to pass on to her final destiny. Countless spirits shared her predicament and began to worship the undead goddess. She became the Rotting One, goddess of Undeath.
For centuries the gods worked to make life more comfortable for their mortal charges, creating such wonders as the Draining Sea and Bridgeways. They also created skylers and plants to serve as food. They inspired the invention of skyships so people could trade and share knowledge. Slowly, mortals forgot the terrible truth about their world. The gods allowed this, knowing the truth would destroy most mortals’ sanity, and wrongly believing the Soulshield would hold.
A FALSE GOD
Many demons were trapped within the Soulshield by the Sundering. Most were hunted down and destroyed, but one, the Leaflord, was able to hide on the elven isle of Heartland. The elves, perhaps recalling fragments of ancient lore, had unknowingly named their homeisle after the world before the Sundering.
The Leaflord’s body rotted away, releasing its consciousness into the isle. It corrupted most of the elves and manifested as an vast tree. The usurper possessed the Willow Queen and, through her, controlled elven policy, making them the martial and secretive race they are. It also created the Fleshforge, a temple beneath its roots, where ferals were created.
Elves are unaware the god they call the Wild is in fact a demon lord from the abyss, and not an elemental force of nature. As one of the Lords of Misrule, it is able to hide the source of its power from the other gods.
THE GODS INSANE
Gods, for all their power, are essentially fragile beings. They need the worship of mortals to give their existence any sort of meaning and worth. Trapped within a bubble in Hell, the gods are cut off from the majority of their worshipers. As vast and unfathomable as the Sundered Skies are to mortals, they seem cramped and claustrophobic to the gods.
The deities’ powers were significantly weakened and some found their domains diminished or completely beyond their reach.
For the ocean god, the strain was too much to bear. He resolved to destroy the Skies to set himself free. He found his new domain—madness. He took a new name— Lightbringer, Lord of Madness — and attacked the other gods. His first target was the Lord of Festival—he hated the spiritual healing properties of music. But he failed to corrupt Festival completely, leaving the god of music a raving recluse on his destroyed island. Lightbringer’s body was destroyed in the battle and scattered throughout the void.
In his new form, Lightbringer was able to channel the influence of the Abyss throughout the Skies, becoming the voidglow. His lack of a body forced him to adopt new strategies, and he became more cunning. Having curtailed Festival’s healing abilities, he planned to cause more widespread damage and moved on to his next target — the Battlelord.
WAR OF FOOLS
Subtly, Lightbringer managed to infect the Battelord with his madness, driving him into a berserk rage. As Lightbringer had hoped, the rage spread, influencing people across the Skies and inflaming petty grievances. The Battlelord’s anger spread like wildfire, sparking disputes over trade, ownership of property, and the right to govern the islands. Fueled by the Battlelord’s insatiable fury, these disputes soon escalated to full-scale conflict and wars raged across the Skies. The War of Fools had begun.
In a moment of lucidity the Battlelord realized what he had caused and took steps to ensure it could never happen again. The god exiled himself to the Draining Sea, where the freezing temperatures cooled his fury. He vowed never to leave, to ensure his rage never again causes such strife. Even with the god’s influence removed, this War of Fools lasted over a hundred years, as battlefronts moved back and forth across the Skies, leaving no inhabited island untouched. Many thousands died in the fighting and the entire populations of more than a dozen small islands starved to death—literally unnoticed amid the maneuvering and pitched battles.
But the Battlelord’s timely realization had averted Lightbringer’s intended outcome. Battle-scarred and war-weary, the people of the Skies survived and the Trade Council was created to avert such catastrophe in the future. The Lightbringer’s plan to escape the Skies was thwarted and he was again forced to wait for his moment of salvation. But he still had a role to play.
The forces of the Abyss, prevented from physically entering the Sundered Skies by the Soulshield, use Lightbringer to weaken and corrupt its inhabitants. A mortal who spends too long in the glow is spiritually changed — characterized by increasing viciousness and a quickening temper—culminating in the victim becoming totally corrupted, one of the bestial glowmad. Unable to win a decisive victory against the gods, Lightbringer resolved to destroy the Skies from within, one soul at a time, while the demon lords, desperate to reunite their king with his immortal heart, continue their futile attempts to destroy the Soulshield.
THE SHIELD UNDONEAlthough the Lightbringer’s despicable plan had failed, he did unwittingly sow the seeds of the Skies’ destruction. The dwarves — weakened by the long wars — were further troubled by marauding orcs and a declining birth rate.
In an attempt to restore their race, they summoned one of their greatest heroes from the heavens to act as their champion, housing him within a specially prepared steam golem. Unknowingly, however, the great hero they summoned was Kalin Broadblade, one of the five saviors of the Skies whose selfless sacrifice had sealed the Soulshield. When the dwarves summoned him, his Soul was torn away, weakening the shield. Worse, a wraith-like demon affixed itself to the Soul and was drawn into the Skies too. Using Broadblade’s fear and confusion to seize control of the golem, the pair are now locked together: a cruel demon in possession of a great dwarven soul.
They roam the Skies as the pirate Kinslayer in the metalclad destroyer Stoneplitter, wreaking havoc against the dwarves who looked to them for salvation. With the Soulshield critically weakened, it was only a matter of time before it fell. The elven Soul, Raven, abandoned it in order to counter the Leaflord’s corruption of her people. She is now locked in a battle of wills with the corrupting demon.
So far, her greatest victory is subverting the Fleshforge into producing wildlings as well as ferals. Her spiritual struggles have awakened the need for freedom in her people, manifesting as the boughbreaker rebellion. The wildlings unknowingly worship Raven as The Alpha. She is able to siphon the power of the Wild to their priests, granting them miracles. She hopes that the salvation of her people lies with the fate of the wildlings. The preserved body of the dragon hero,Whitefire, was lost in the void during the Sundering. In time, it was discovered by the Rotting One’s high priestess, Bone Queen, who used it to in a hideous ceremony that reclaimed the dragon’s Soul from the shield and bound it.
The dragon’s vast corpse was hollowed out by the evil liche’s minions and converted into the mightiest of death barges, in the arcane engines of which now burn Whitefire’s soul as an eternal fuel. The human Soul, that of the hero bard Balladeer, was drawn out of the Soulshield by the magical energies generated during the battle between Festival and Madness.
Today, his soul lies within a harp in the ruins of Aria, ignored by both the voiders and the mad god. The orcish Soul, a berserker called Watcher, entered the Soulshield reluctantly and left it without regret. He now stalks the streets of the Foreign Quarter on Dragon’s Spine, ritually slaying any orc he comes across, and carving the dwarven rune of retribution into his victim’s forehead. By doing this, he plays on the ancient bitter enmity between dwarves and orcs in the hope of provoking a new war between the races. This, he thinks, will awaken the suppressed rage in his people and lead them to fulfill a glorious destiny.
With the Soulshield abandoned by the cementing Souls, some of the other souls trapped within were able to escape their endless punishment and return to find new bodies to inhabit. Goblins are the soulless decendents of the worshippers of the Demon King—whose souls were used to create the Soulshield — so it is perhaps fitting that the souls were reunited with the bodies of their descendents.
When a goblin goes glowmad, it opens a momentary conduit to the Soulshield through which a quick, lucky, or forceful soul travels. Thus the glowborn are created. Of course, each new glowborn weakens the Soulshield further and as the Skies’ only protection falters, the demon lords are finally starting to be able to directly exert some influence over events within the Skies. If the Soulshield continues to degrade, the future of the Sundered Skies is bleak.
Evil mortals inevitably worship these “Lords of Misrule,” who grant the most powerful of their followers the godshifting ability. Godshifting is the ability to replicate the divine miracles of the gods of the Sundered Skies. The demons protect their servants, shielding them from the notice of those they mock. Some godshifters masquerade as kindly priests, sometimes for years, making their betrayal all the more devastating.
But the real duty of the godshifters is to seek ways to further weaken the Skies’ protection
against the demon horde. If the minions of the Lords of Misrule can breach or destroy the Soulshield, the demons of the Abyss will finally be free to enter the skies and reunite the Demon King with his heart.
The only hope to resist the demon horde is to repair the Soulshield. The five Souls of old must be returned to their stations once more to save the Sundered Skies. Now is a time for new heroes.