Shadow of the Cacklefiend
As I transcribe the words of ancient texts here in the Grand Library of Tahir, I cannot imagine our world was anything more than a vast emptiness of grass and sand, but it was, a very long time ago. Before humanity destroyed its environment and nearly itself the name Eden was not given as a bad joke to our world, but as an expression of gratitude to the gods for the paradise they had bestowed on us. Now we see that we where unworthy caretakers of such a gift. For the sake of completeness I shall begin at the very beginning, before humans first began to record their imaginings upon immortal rock and passed down their legends from father to son.
In the beginning (excuse the cliche.) Eden was a world of frozen ice and tropical jungle, alien though those concepts are to our mind. The northern half of our continent was covered in a vast plain of snow and under that thick layers of ice. Huge creatures covered in shaggy coats stalked this land hunted by our brutish ancestors. As this frigged hell advanced south it slowly became small steppes covered in grass not so dissimilar from the Great Savanna. However the grass soon met huge forests of trees (though I doubt the common folk would know what a tree is I trust my more learned readers will have seen an ancient depiction). This formed one unbroken jungle of impenetrable growth and sweltering humidity. Huge lizard-beasts crashed through this undergrowth and where hunted by other bipedal reptilians in a cold-blooded parody of their northern neighbors.
There where other races at this time of course like the Gnolls, Elves and Goblinoids but we know very little of their early centuries and I can only theories that they made their own way upon Eden much the same as we did: hunting the large game and gathering other sustenance along the way. For uncounted generations we wandered the surface of Eden as barbarian nomads, but at some point in the forgotten mists of time a single human must have been born with a gift that would change everything. Magic.
Though the sorceress arts and all those who practice them are now reviled and the Great Ban is in place, it cannot be denied that Magic and Wizards played a crucial role in our species rising from barbarism. From the seed of that first unknown sorcerer spread the gift of magic among our people and with it came the first cornerstones of civilization.
The first people of the Three Great Tribes to end their nomadic lifestyle and begin a sedentary existence where of course the Haksoon and it is likely that within their line lies the original seed from which sprouted all magical talent. Their forefathers used magic as the chisel to carve their great empire from the Eden. Magic was still new at this time and its effects and implications not well understood. The Haksoon must have had no idea then that their use of sorcery was slowly but inexorably destroying the environment. Indeed, the first effects of the Blight was the increase of the general temperature which must have seemed like a blessing as the great ice sheets retreated. Many of the great beasts our early ancestors also disappeared with the snow and it cannot be known whether it was also the Blight that destroyed them or if their fate was tied completely with the existence of the tundra, but in either case humanity must be at least partially responsible for their mass extinction.
And thus, as the temperature increased and the ice sheets retreated due to the Blight the Haksoon created the first city of stone, the ruins of which remain in the Dune Sea for those who would dare to invade its secret crypts and ruined pyramids; Bast, The First City. The First City must have been a hotbed of activity with huge paved roads of stone and massive pyramid-crypts and temples lined with twenty foot tall statues of anthropomorphic gods and ruled over by wise Wizard-Kings of awesome power.
However, let us be very clear. The Haksoon Empire was undeniably great and powerful, but they where also unreasonably cruel and abused its power. This is what caused its great doom and perhaps the doom of our entire planet. The Haksoon Empire expanded out from the Bast in all directions, enslaving, plundering and slaying all those that it found regardless of race, gender or age. Miles long chain gangs of Orcs, Gnolls, Humans, and Halflings lined the roads to Bast and where worked to death by the Haksoon overlords. However, the world outside of humanities sight had advanced as well and two other great civilizations came into being and would soon make war against the tyranny of the Haksoon.
The Lizardfolk of the southern jungles had developed a strong, organized and advanced civilization by the time the first Haksoon raiders penetrated the jungles to find gleaming cities every bit the equal of Bast, though we know little about it due to the destructive actions of our forefathers. Eager beyond all reason at the prospect of subjugating and devouring an entire civilization and enslaving hundreds of thousands of Lizardfolk the Haksoon threw caution to the winds and began a war of annihilation against the Lizardfolk. The humans had seriously underestimated their reptilian rivals however, and wherever the two armies clashed there was unimaginable bloodshed.
Desperate to break the deadlock and destroy their rivals, the Mage-Kings of Bast used magic for the first time as a weapon of war. Legions of battle-wizards bathed the armies of the Lizardfolk in hellfire while lightning split the sky. Against a power such as this the Lizardfolk could not stand and though they resisted to the last it was in vein. As an act of spite the Haksoon trapped the last surviving Lizardfolk in their great city and burned it as well as their jungle with a fire so hot it shattered the very rocks their huge pyramids where built upon, leaving only a vast wasteland of broken rock, The Pan.
It was during this war that the first sign of the cost of magic became apparent for all to see. The Blight, the slow poisoning and destruction of the environment through the use of magic. When a human wizard taps into their power to use magic they steal energy from the world around them, plants whither and die while animals grow sick and infertile. Even the very soil itself loses its ability to sustain life! Not only that, the Blight lasts indefinitely. The signs of past magic that occurred thousands of years ago remain apparent to this day. Perhaps in a distant future our decedents will not witness the folly of their ancestors as we do, but that will be a distant day.
The Haksoon saw that by unleashing their magic against the Lizardfolk it had predominantly scarred the land. They now had to make a choice: to end their use of magic while the natural balance of the world remained intact for the most part, or continue to use powers that would eventually destroy them. They chose damnation. Regardless of the cost, the Haksoon Empire continued to employ the use of its Wizards.
While the Haksoon where annihilating the civilization of the Lizardfolk, another powerful nation was discovered in the north-east. The forest-empire of the Elves. The Elves where a strong, long lived race with mystical powers of their own but did not leach the life essence of the world around them. Inside the massive evergreen forests the Elves had created a strong culture and an accumulated wisdom greater than that of Haksoon.
Whether it was human jealousy or elvish arrogance that began the long war will never be known. All that is known is that the Haksoon Empire, still weakened from its annihilation of the Lizardfolk invaded the forests of the elves and began enslaving their people. Again they brought forth their battle-wizards to destroy this competent enemy, but this time the human sorcerers had found their match in the elven mages. Cadres of human warrior-wizards dueled with legions of elven sages, their battles destroying the earth around them for miles around. Forced to draw upon ever greater and more powerful spells to defeat their foe, the Haksoon magicians where systematically destroying the forests of the Elves.
It would be reasonable for anyone to wonder what race, if any could prosper upon such a world that seemed eternally wracked with war and whose environment was being transformed into barren wasteland. But there was one race that not only survived this dark time of slavery and terror, but multiplied. No history of Eden would be complete without a mention of one of its most prosperous races. The Gnolls.
The Gnolls are a race as divided as any other by bloodlines and tribal distinctions, but on the whole they believe that they where created when the Demon Prince Yeenoghu, Ruler of Ruin and Beast of Butchery fed his most powerful Demons to earthly Hyenas. The offspring of these Hyenas where the first Gnolls.
The Gnolls are a strong and ferocious race, the majority of which pay homage to their Demon Prince and creator. However there are many other more civilized tribes and an entire bloodline that have overcome the darkness inherent in their souls and have recognized the evil designs of The Beast of Butchery.
In the years of the Haksoon Empires domination, the Gnolls seemingly multiplied exponentially in the newly created deserts and savanna which is hardly surprising considering the hardiness of their race and the fact these new environments where perfectly suited to their needs. As the Haksoon and the Elves clashed, desperate for the destruction of each other, both soon found themselves beset by a new and powerful enemy as Gnoll tribes numbering in their thousands rampaged over Eden. Both nations where forced to recall their armies to defend their towns and cities from hordes of Gnoll Raiders.
Though lacking in discipline and technology compared to the Haksoon and Elvish empires, the Gnolls more than made up for this with numbers and vicious fanaticism and seemed to grow more deadly even when driven off. The gnolls would return to the battlefields and scour them for superior weapons and armour and their dark god Yeenoghu waxed strong in the Abyss as his followers brought death, destruction and chaos upon the mortal world. Soon the Gnoll armies where besieging the gates of the Basy the First City itself.
Just as the Gnolls and their Demon Prince seemed poised to snuff out the light of civilization, the Mage-Kings of Bast and the Haksoon Empire made a desperate final ploy. They sold their souls to Yeenoghu and swore him fealty in exchange for sparing their pathetic Empire his wrath. The Ruler of Ruin agreed to their terms and Bast became the center of his dark church. The temples of the other gods where cast down and replaced by his Hyena-Headed vestige. Dark alters where constructed and slaves where gutted daily to appease the new dark god of the Haksoon.
A new army now descended upon the last remnant of the Elven Empire made up of crazed gnoll zealots, disciplined demon-worshiping Haksoon soldiers and power crazed mages. Against such a force the Elven Empire could not hope to stand, but by the gods they would die trying! The last army of the elves assembled in the devastated wasteland that was once their home singing death-songs and preparing to sell their lives dearly before the endless horde before them.
As the lines of chaos and order clashed in the wastelands of what had once been paradise, the laws that held the world together shattered.
Lurking outside the mortal realm, the Ruler of Ruin, Beast of Butchery, The Destroyer Yeenoghu himself was lurking, army of demons in tow. The Demon-Prince had glutted himself upon the chaos and destruction wrought in his name and had embraced his new human worshipers. His power swelled to unimaginable proportions as the seemingly final conflict of the world raged. Using his new found godlike powers, Yeenoghu lifted up his mighty triple-headed flail and with one blow shattered the boundaries of reality and chaos, reason and madness.
In that one moment many things happened and everything changed. Yeenoghu had shattered the boundary between the Abtss, realm of demons and that of the mortal world, Eden. Through this gaping wound in reality poured the vast and unstoppable armies of the Destroyer. This tear in sanity was centered over the Haksoon Empire and the foolish humans that had sold their souls for a moments respite where the first to feel the wrath of the Ruler of Ruin.
The Haksoon empire was virtually destroyed overnight, those few people that managed to escape its destruction where scattered to the four winds and have been forever cursed for their deeds. It is said that Yeenoghu himself assaulted Bast the First City alone and had the gates sealed behind him. A week later he emerged covered in blood and announced that the First City was scourged of all life.
One, small blessing came from this monstrous catastrophe. As the true servants of Yeenoghu turned upon the Haksoon Empire and tore it apart it gave vital time for a resistance to organize. The surviving remnants of the Elves, Humans, Goblinoids and even Gnolls and many of the Haksoon put aside all their petty squabbles and united against the Beast of Butchery.
The Resistance was based in the former area of the Elven forest and moved constantly from place to place, engaging the armies of the Destroyer in hit-and-run ambushes only when the odds where stacked in their favor. The Resistance included dozens of different races that would normaly never have anything to do with one another. Humans fought back to back with Orcs, Goblins and Gnolls defended one another and Bugbears saved Elf lives. If only it did not require such dire straits for the desperate races of Eden to unite, perhaps our paradise would have survived…
In any case, the Resistance was lead by one individual, both the most unlikely and most well suited to the task. It was a white Gnoll, one of the Ohnayga bloodline. His name has been erased by Yeenoghu as part of his never ending punishment, but despite the Demon Princes best efforts the world will never forget this savior. This white Gnoll lead the Resistance and was seemingly invincible. He destroyed every enemy that challenged him and soon the Demons began to fear the rumor of his coming.
Yeenoghu, enraged that a Gnoll, one of his own children was the one who was inflicting such a toll upon his armies strode forth to challenge this creature to combat.
Mortal clashed agaisnt god that day as Yeenoghu fought against the White Gnoll. The Demon Prince had severely underestimated his enemy and to his everlasting shame and rage soon found himself on the defensive. The White Gnoll fought like a being possessed and many believe he was indeed gifted with a spark of the divine.
It is hard for us to imagine what this duel to decide the fate of the world must have been like. Sources describe Yeenoghu as having the appearance of an abominably huge Gnoll at least twelve feet tall and endowed with strange powers. It is said that entire mountain ranges where shattered into sand by the strikes of his Triple Flail. I find it difficult to believe that any mortal being no matter how skilled could stand before the wrath of such a creature, but not only did he stand against the Destroyer, repulsed him. Had it not been for the betrayal, the Demon Prince might have been forever destroyed that day.
The histories tell us that the White Gnoll dealt a horrible blow to the Demon Prince’s knee and shattered the unbreakable bones of his form. Yeenoghu faltered and the White Gnoll raised his weapon to deal the final, skull crushing blow to Yeenoghu.
And then, a sword known forever more as Winnower cleaved through his leg. Nesrebe, brother of the White Gnoll betrayed him at this final moment of victory. Yeenoghu stood, cackling at this timely betrayal and gloated over his now crippled adversary. The Ruler of Ruin reached down and grasped the White Gnoll by the throat, lifting him up to deliver his own killing stroke.
No one knows exactly what happened then. Some say that the gods took pity on the noble creatures sacrifice. The more pessimistic simply believe that whatever power that was holding Yeenoghu and his demons in this realm expired. Whatever the case, in that moment Yeenoghu and his armies simply finished like a desert mirage, the White Gnoll disappearing still in the Demon Lords claws.
The survivors of this alliance where left bemused as the great enemy simply vanished. Slowly we began to rebuild. Our world, our paradise had been destroyed by the wars that engulfed it and the misuse of magic. Only three tribes of humans survived the war, the infamous Haksoon, reclusive Imer and the prosperous Wayah. In the aftermath of this dreadful cataclysm the three Great Tribes agreed upon a complete and total ban upon human sorcery, making it a crime punishable by death.
In practice though The Ban is only enforced in the cities. Outside in the wilderness it is considered a blessing among the tribes to have a member able to command the power of magic, and who can blame them? Out there you need every advantage you can get to survive.
The Wayah proved to be the most resourceful tribe after the cataclysm, erecting cities and great monuments. The Imer kept to their nomadic existence as they have done for uncounted generations. The Horse-Lords are a people driven by tradition. The surviving Haksoon however, are treated with suspicion and hate throughout Eden. They wander the wilderness, cast out for their ancient wrongs.
It has been one hundred and fifty years since the armies of Yeenoghy and his demons vanished from the face of the earth, and we seem to have entered a prosperous age of new opportunities. However, darkness gathers on the horizen. It has recently been discovered that deep within the western desert is a hell on earth. Dubed Iblis, this is the true product of the Haksoons heresy. A piece of the Abyss, the hell from which all demons spawn has been permanently brought here. The Imer and Elf tribes that skirt the area report that there is a massive dark fortress in its center, and that the Ruler of Ruin has not left the world. Perhaps our doom was not averted but merely forestalled. Perhaps it is time for new heroes to arise and defend what is left of our forsaken paradise…