AGE OF SHADOWS
Prologue: from the Journal of Fandral Matagahn, Mage of the west.
No one knows when the Old Kingdom fell. Some of the sages say one hundred years ago, some say a thousand; it matters not, because fall it did. Once it ruled the whole world; and there was peace. It ruled justly and well, but because of its own strength, and the competence of its defenders, it became too sure of itself. The Old Kingdom ruled through magic, and through magic it was destroyed.
With wealth and peace came complacency, and the old kingdom had forgotten the art of war. Only the Aldari priestesses and the Valorian Knights had maintained the skills of sword and slaying spells, and they were too few to stop the Soulless Ones when they streamed out of their hellish home and feasted on the flesh of Elf, Man, and Dwarf. It was these two orders that stood alone against the Soulless Ones and died in lamentable numbers. In the end it was Miradorr, the last of the Mage-Kings, who stopped the Soulless Ones. It was he who unleashed a magic more powerful than any seen before or since to obliterate the Soulless Ones in an eye-twinkling, but magic of such power has does not destroy only its intended victims. Miradorr's final spell laid waist to all the world, and changed the once tranquil sea of magic into a turbulent ocean.
We know not what the Old Kingdom called the world, but we now call it Eskil. In the language of my ancestors Eskil means "Shadow," for the world is now a shadow of Old Kingdom. Where there was once one nation, there are now many. Where peace once reined, violence now rules. Hope is all but forgotten, but there are those who bring light to darkness. These rare and exceptional people refused to live in a world cast in perpetual shadow. I have the good fortune of counting nine such people as my friends. Together we attempt to light a path that others may follow.
Branwen paced the floor of her-fire lit chamber restlessly. She was barely aware of the cold stone floor against her bare feet. Today was to be the day of her Awakening. Today her magic would be released. It was the beginning of her nineteenth year, and her training was at its end. After her magic was awakened she would leave the temple and begin her service to her Gods, and to the cause of light. She awaited the person who would awaken her magic. She knew he was coming to her, because he had no choice. The calling ritual had been performed, and Branwen's first lover would be compelled to seek her out.
She was an Aldari priestess, and her life thus far had been one of service and chastity. Her coming lover was a Valorian Knight, and he too had been sequestered throughout his life. The two orders were closely linked. They worshiped the same Gods, had the same goals, and bore children exclusively among each other. Their numbers were kept exactly equal: one hundred priestesses, and one hundred knights. They were trained in war and magic from birth, and although both orders dwelled in the same temple, they kept the members who were in training chaste.