Forsaken Realms

Prologue

“The Crimson Bandit”

 

 

            The rattle of chains disrupted the beautiful, scenic view that most residents of the castle-city of Gala Xia enjoyed. Craning their necks around to try and locate the source of the annoying sound, they were in for a surprise. A train of prisoners was trudging along, led by a tall, imposing figure in a cloak and hood that hid their features. The train itself wasn’t so surprising, but the person chained in front of it was.

 

            Her hair was blood red, almost crimson. She wore a fancy adventurer’s suit of a fiery orange and white and a purple cape with a black lining, all of which had apparently seen better days. Her hands and even her fingers were bound tightly together, indicating to everyone that she was a magic user of some kind. The hair, clothing, and that last were all any of them needed to know. The infamous Crimson Bandit had been captured. As the cheers went up, the subject of observation smirked and tried to stand a little straighter.

 

(Voiceover in a rather cute girl’s voice)

 

            “Yeah, that’s me. ‘The Crimson Bandit’ they call me, probably ‘cuz no one knows my real name. What? You expect me to tell you? Yeah, right… and lose my air of mystery? Forget it! Unless, of course, you paid the right price.” The voice snorts. “You’re probably wondering ‘What the H-E-Double-Scythes is going on here. Well, to answer that question, I’m going to give you a history lesson. Gather your quills and tablets, students.”

 

            The citizens began pelting the train with rotten food, small rocks, or whatever they can find. Most of the population of Gala Xia were wood elves, so their aim was right on target. While the entire train was getting barraged, a greater majority of the incoming projectiles were aimed at the crimson-haired girl. With grace, agility, and just a touch of cockiness, she dodged and skipped despite being tightly bound. Not one of the attacks landed on her, though a few hit her ‘companions,’ much to their growing displeasure.

 

            “Well, to start with, this is Gala Xia, capital city of the wood elf kingdom of Saiya Lor. Heh, if you think these people are torqued at me, you should see what happens when I get to Holy Wood, the center of the high,” a snicker, “elf kingdom of Bermuda. They’re *really* not happy with me. Anyway, this world used to be a lot more fun decades and decades and… or would generations be a better way to put it? Aww, never mind. Anyways again, back before ‘The Ascension,’ as most people call it now, times were different. Raiders like me were not typically bothered with because the high-up muckity-mucks were too busy waging war, chatting with the gods, and otherwise being high-up muckity-mucks. Then a bunch of people somehow got the right to be gods.”

 

            A particularly nasty tomato came flying through the air at the redhead, but a nimble dodge caused it to hit her captor instead. That brought the entire line to a halt as the figure stopped and turned towards where the offending vegetable came from. Before the hooded entity could even glare at the thrower a commotion in the crowd indicated that he or she had realized their mistake and fled the area. Satisfied that its point had been made, the figure turned around and began walking towards the castle again. Surprisingly, or not, no more objects were thrown at the prisoners.

 

            “Yeah, I know. ‘That’s happened before. Big deal!’ It’s not a big deal, really, if only one or two people ascend at the same time. Heck, it’s been done before where three or four all ‘shuffled off this mortal coil’ simultaneously. But when six, or twelve depending on who you ask, people all Ascend together… For a few years, everything seemed to be normal, but then the time of ‘The Great Leaving’ occurred. For one day, none of the churches, councils, or mages could get in contact with their patron deities. Panic began to set in but after a day, the gods spoke again. They all gave basically the same message, though the exact words varied. At their core, the words were ‘We quit.’”

 

            The train reached the castle entrance. One of the guards seemed to recognize the red-haired prisoner and moved to strike her with his spear. This time the Crimson Bandit didn’t bother dodging. She knew better. In a sudden flash of movement and the unique sound of mythril cutting through wood, the mysterious cloaked figure drew a rapier-like sword and sliced the spear in half. The guard stared dumbfounded at his weapon for a moment before turning in anger towards the offender. One glare from the figure killed his anger and sent him retreating back to his post. The train continued its way into the castle.

 

            “Actually, one goddess didn’t say she quit. Cute Little Washu, as she prefers to be called, informed her followers that she was having just way too much fun with a new situation that had come up and that she would start answering questions after her worshippers calculated how the square root of pi would be altered by the event horizon of a black hole if the anomaly occurred inside of an Escher painting on a Tuesday. Well, no one knows what pi, an event horizon, Escher, or Tuesday are, and we certainly don’t know what effect a dark hole would have on them, so nobody has heard from her yet. And that was a long time ago.”

 

            The train was led through the castle courtyard and down long flights of stairs.

 

            “Shortly after the gods quit, the churches received messages saying that all further contact should be directed towards whichever of the new gods dealt with that particular area of influence. It took a looooong time to sort that out, and things really didn’t get much easier when they did. Everyone expected life to get back to normal, for the most part, but it wasn’t to be. You see, the new gods had a tendency to bicker and fight each other… on the mortal plane! One whole continent was changed forever from a rather boring series of plains, mountains, and other normal terrain into… well, chaos really. There’s one place, called ‘The Cauldron’, where plants grow with such virulent poison that few living things can survive them. The weird bit is… well, the plants look just like the vegetables and fruits that we eat. Scary, huh? The assassin guilds love that place. There are other oddities over there and, in general, no sane person will live on that continent any more.”

 

            At the bottom of the last flight of stairs, the prisoners were logged in and taken to individual cells.

 

            “Well, the people decided that they had enough. Gods are only as powerful as their worshippers, right? So quit worshipping and the gods should get the message, right?” Another snicker, “Yeah, that’s what they thought. But apparently someone never told the new gods about that little rule. When the worshipping stopped, they got annoyed. You see, they apparently *really* hate to be ignored. That time became known as ‘The Big Oops’. Oh, the intellectual types have another name for it, but that one fits better, I think. While no deaths could be directly attributed to the gods, there were a number of people who began *wishing* that they were dead. In the end, the people agreed to keep worshipping and the gods agreed to ‘keep it down.’”

 

            As the prisoners were taken to a cell, their shackles were removed. All of them, that is, except the redhead. Her hands were left manacled and new chains were added to her legs.

 

            “Boy, they don’t trust me, do they? Heh, guess they know my reputation too well. Heh. Anyway, things probably would have settled down and everything returned to normal except for the next little discovery. The churches were having problems getting a hold of the right deity. It seems that half the time when they called upon their patron, one of the other deities would answer instead. They decided to carefully map out the cross-linked contacts. Ho boy, was that fun! I would love to have seen their faces when they figured out that the crossed wires always happened between the same pairings of deities. They compared notes and found that half of their new doctrines were nearly identical to one of the other orders’. This led to one of the biggest holy wars in history as people began to argue over ‘The Truth’.”

 

            Time passed as the redhead examined every inch of her cell.

 

            “Boy, this one isn’t going to be easy to get out of. Anyway, one group declared that there were twelve gods with doubled-up duties so they could handle things better. Another stated that there were obviously only six gods, but that we were seeing them from two different angles, like two sides of a coin. Then there were the smaller groups who agreed with one or the other side for the most part, but disagreed on details. One believed that one set of the gods represented evil while the other represents good. This particular group had a tendency to fragment further with arguments and bloody battles over which ones were which. And then there was the splinter faction of ‘We Don’t Care, We Just Want An Excuse To Fight.’ Heh, they were kinda fun, but a little too kill-happy for my tastes. Finally, after fighting for a long time and generally screwing everything up even worse, the holy war was called to a halt and a central government was decided on. Each of the remaining kingdoms were permitted to stay just the way they were, doing things normally. However a central body would handle any major disagreements as well as pursue any clues as to ‘The Truth’. That’s right, we actually put that thing in capitals. The Truth. That’s not some ‘universal truth’ or anything like that. The Truth means the facts behind ‘The Ascension’, ‘The Great Leaving’, and, most importantly, the new gods. From what I’ve heard though, this really isn’t going well for the Council of the Enlightened, as that central body became called.”

 

            The sound of footsteps approaching and the appearance of several ‘serious’ looking people caused the crimson haired lady to sigh.

 

            “Better wrap this up folks. The interrogators are here. Some kingdoms call them torturers, but the Saiya Lor prefer that other term. Anyway, since the political situation is under control, that means that people in my line of work are starting to get special attention.” A wistful sigh. “I wonder how my old friend, Lina, is doing. Yeah, that’s right. My old pal, Lina Inverse. What? You’re surprised that the ‘Bandit Killer’ and the ‘Crimson Bandit’ were friends? Well, I wasn’t the Crimson Bandit back then. She was friends with demons, I was supposedly related to the new gods, we made a great team! But we… had a falling out. It was stupid and pointless, but we both have our pride, right? Rig-… Ah, crap! I didn’t know they had one of those things here! Well, I’m torched this time. Stupid Gem of Truth…”

 

            The redhead straightened herself up, never sacrificing dignity or that subtle air of cockiness.

 

            “Well, it was nice talking to you folks. Ranko Masaki, signing off.”