Inevitability of the Exile (essay)
Title: The Inevitability of the Exile Author: Lord Xorus Kul'shin
It is the tradition of most civilizations to make myths of their own history. These serve the twin virtues of self-deception and the deceiving of children, raising them on the apologetics of prior ages. Their character is thus fashioned, and so warped in the imagination. In the beginning it is innocuous, taking the form of noble lies regarding the properly mythical, whether "the gods" or whatever else, so long as they cannot be felt or immediately questioned. With time the storytellers grow bolder in their delusions, cleansing the past of the very blood that rains from the maelstrom of world history. Ire falls unto the whim of irony, and reality is lost to irreality.
Among the Faendryl, these myths often concern what is most momentous, whatever gives coherence to the present. The story of Elizhabethian trauma has as much substance for us as Korthyr felling the first fel tree of the old city. The myth imparts a symbolic moral, and we no more believe the first borough flowed from his blood than we do his being raised by centaurs, so as to better grasp the hybridity of all things.
The idea of an "inventor" of veil piercing, in short, is manifestly absurd. No one would believe such a thing, unless they were hopelessly ignorant of arcane knowledge. It was something that was slowly developed in various forms, with countless precursors, as all inventions, and first known only as a terrifying facet of nature. Without the aid of higher understanding all sorts of misconceptions are allowed to fester in the imagination, which is how careless wording by the Illistim led countless laymen to believe Despana invented Undeath, having read a book on the subject of necromancy.
Fables are not meant to peer into the heart of being, as though we were Koar, struggling to subsume all of the world within ourselves. They belong within the storm and trouble of the ages. There is no truly "new" magic, for instance, a truth the Illistim know only too well. That is the point of giving excesses of emphasis on summoning in the Second Age. Whether they were deceived or complicit hinges on such context, which is why their art is all the more deceiving. Our tradition is to embrace history with the fluidity of will, not to embalm all of our yesterdays in the death mask of a timeless shroud.
It would be as though a hammer were taken to the great ocean of time, reflecting the past into a shattered mirror of meaning. When the world has been ripped apart with the winds of chaos and preternatural ferocity, with all that was and ever will be unfolded before you, perspective is best warped through thousands of odd angles. As rainbows emerge from the spray, so too truth rises from stormy weather. Wisdom is the blood of our imperial majesty. World history flows with the perfection of the glorious state.
Without such violence we would be left blind to the shifting gales of time, unable to recognize the threats of the immediate from the crises of old. The world comes to know itself through our struggle. Such was the Age of Chaos, and the untimely myth of its demise. And so, warding against the wandering eye of the storm, our purpose here is a childish exercise.
It is customary for the youth of the Faendryl to address ancient debates as though they were recent, keeping the flames of conflict burning in the moment, so the historical is not relegated to the kind of graven epitaphs found in the idle scribblings of Meachreasim. The exile of House Faendryl will be redressed without the weak excuse making of "opportunism", speaking of what followed as flowing from the inflexibility of ideologies held out of joint with time. It was the world that changed with the force of inevitability, and thus it is the story of those who refused to change with it.
I. The Precedence of Arcane Knowledge
The Illistim chroniclers have often accused our elder historians of "a virulent strain of revisionist history", throwing the sequence of events and scales of time to the winds for the sake of petty shibboleths. Our sins are --- apparently, and as always --- unforgivable. We are so terribly wrong it beggars belief. Whether it is "insinuating the Undead War lasted 15,000 years", or "implying demonic summoning was a cornerstone of imperial society for twenty millennia", it would seem our mendacity knows no bounds. The spectator should not be so quick to judge. Where we use seers to divine the deep past, our brethren would read nonsense into cave paintings.
They have forgotten their own dogmas, of course, blinded by their unspoken philosophy of history. The Masters of Lore make no distinction between chronology and narrative, much less the crucible of will and being, and so are incapable of distinguishing them. They speak as though "facts" speak for themselves, something transcendent from nature, rather than acting as wayward interpretations of the understanding. Innuendos would hold the same epistemic stature for them as the highest theory. To be "revisionist" implies there was a vision to revise at all, and so for all the pomp of their supposed neutrality, we are thrust back into the realm of politics.
What, pray tell, was the debate? The impression is that this was so obvious, there was nothing argued at all. That what the Faendryl strategists had done at Maelshyve was extremely dangerous has never been disputed. What meaning could danger even have when one hangs from the edge of oblivion? It was not a question of whether it was an existential threat, but rather if it was worth swapping the immediate for the everlasting. Which was the greater hazard?
The Great Tear was not without precedent in its scale of violence. The wound was weak compared to the collapse of the major portal that wracked the Southron Wastes, and nothing out of the ordinary course of natural events. Flow storms tear at the fabric of reality with far more reckless abandon than any sorcery, with rifts to the Pales ripped open at random without any control whatsoever. These hurricanes of magical power have plagued us since before recorded history, owning much of the responsibility for the demonic in the religious superstitions of all cultures. Celestial alignments wreak their own havoc.
While our forebears knew the "Veil" would be torn so badly it would never heal, there was little question that such violence was nothing new to the world, much less the Southron Wastes. Its very existence says as much. The Eyes of Koar would seal the Void, as they had since the First Age. Perhaps some high malevolent walking through the utter blackness would have forced the gods, who were unsurprisingly absent, to finally intervene on behalf of the civilization they were so willing to abandon. Such "hubris" was anathema to our cousins, all the more so because our ancestors were right.
Their hypocrisy was incredible. Why would the malevolence of the demonic at all matter? Their own summoning of elementals, familiars, and the wielding of portals weaken the very same barriers between planes of existence. There can be no moral high ground on this question. That summoning demons is particularly heinous owes more to the prejudices of pre-historical savagery than reason, or else they were more afraid of the wrath of Liabo than Despana, from whom they had just been saved moments prior. The appeal to populism inherent in their arguments were disgustingly ignoble.
The exile was chosen on a poetic premise: "Let them live with what they hath wrought, if truly it be not so dangerous!" Whatever was to come of it was our burden, as we took it upon ourselves to act alone. With each passing day our continued existence is a source of spite for our kin, as our survival irrefutably proves that they were completely wrong. Turning instead to their other argument, intended to appeal to the wounded pride of the Vaalor, we must address the inexorable necessity of the Faendryl method. Having dispensed with their sophistry in their own terms, we will move on to the intrinsic nature of The Exile.
II. The Hierarchy of Undeath
In the early days of the war with Despana, Vaalor mistook her for a warlord, the undead merely another horde of barbarians. Warfare had become predicated on a classical theory of tribulation, the so-called "asymmetry" where defense is the inherently stronger position. Brigands would be broken by overextending themselves, and disorganized marauders out of the mountains would scatter, falling prey to division and conquest. It was possible at the height of the Elven Empire to think of war as a ceremonial pretense of aristocracy, a bit of sporting violence followed with a gentleman's peace without consequence.
At one time, wars could be settled with the blood of gladiators, such was the supremacy of Elven might. It was a more civilized age, the rule of higher races. What Despana brought forth was something altogether different. No one had ever wielded the black arts to such scale, much less with such hierarchy or transcendence of purpose. The fog of war has no meaning with the undead; a restless army, without survival instinct, changes the calculus irrevocably. All of the rules were turned against us, and the Vaalor were made to fall on their own swords.
Most of her horde was quite weak by Elven standards. Her foul infantry was mostly formed of walking corpses, often spreading themselves with cursed diseases, transforming those they molested with incurable wounds. Colloquially, these illnesses were "the Red Rot." A single bite, a single scratch, and the victim would be added to her own arms. Thus skill was negated, unless it was flawless. It was a paradox that confounded the military theory of a whole age, an aberration of the cosmic order; it was a legion whose weakness was its strength, and for which strength was the greatest weakness.
Whichever method was used, there was a single dark purpose. It was not enough to steal the souls of her enemies, for the undead are not equally useful for all ends. Those who fell before her became forms which act as servants for higher masters. They would mindlessly obey any dark power greater than themselves, whether skeletal lords or ghoul masters, all the way up to the virtually indestructible liches.
The precariousness of traditional tactics was quickly made evident at Shadow Guard. With the exception of the occasional lucky break, such as the infamous veil-iron sword match against the Arch-lich Dharthiir, it was impossible for traditional battle to harm the hierarchy of the Undead. If the lieutenant lording over the nearest rotting flesh were even reachable with force, the horde would still obey the other powers by following each other. Most of her force was leveraged, without need for overt necromancy. The rapidity by which the undead would add to their numbers turned the strength of Elven immortality against itself.
Within a few years the Elven Empire would have been completely destroyed. There was no way around it. There were no meaningful losses on the other side, and nothing but inevitable losses on ours. The pittance of divine intercession in the form of sanctified blades was a cruel joke. The Elven blademasters were made meaningless, and the Breaking Shield of antiquity was the first to shatter.
There was at the time, and remains to this day, only one possible stratagem. No one has ever proposed another convincing option. The Faendryl recognized time was on the side of Despana, that the Elves had suddenly become the mortals, and she was pressing her advantage in total disregard for resources and supply lines. Her horde was indivisible. All the logic of war had become illogic. The only way to defeat her would be to invert the strength of her own method. What was called for was a total war of utter annihilation.
There were three prongs to this strategy: (1) Lightning warfare. (2) Turn her own hierarchy against itself. (3) Irreversibly banish her commanders, so they could never return. Not even a single lich could be allowed to survive, or else it would all have been for nothing. Without victory there would only be doom, for the forces of civilization would tire in retreat and be slaughtered. It was precisely the opposite of the age old wisdom of warfare. To this day, we wage only wars of absolution, without any survivors.
There was one way, and only one way, to accomplish these goals. The dark arts were necessary to interrupt the power she held over her own hordes. The fabric of reality must then be torn so badly that the key figures were forced out of existence forever. Whatever was left behind would be disordered, and easily crushed as so many lesser races had been before them. The Faendryl reasoned that if Despana could wield "forbidden" magics with impunity, there would be no holy retribution for doing the same to stop her. There has never been divine wrath for our demonic summoning.
When our military forces stood before the blackened keep of Maelshyve, the conventional battle was allowed to progress as planned until its futility became obvious. Banshees proved powerful enough to cripple almost all of the living. The battle was lost. It was at that point --- the undeniable failure of conventional warfare --- that we released thousands of the lesser demonic. These malevolent spirits, hardly needing to be very powerful individually, wreaked havoc on her hordes. They had no sense of whom to obey, instantly collapsing her ranks into chaos.
Unable to control her most mindless underlings, the unliving immediately turned on the orcs and trolls. Men fell before the harrowers, weeping with the gnashing of teeth. Those who were not lost to the demonic fled back into the fortress, attacked on all sides, with the undead giving them chase. When the battlefield was cleared of any significant power, the fabric of reality was torn with such might that all within were not only destroyed, but thrust into a nothingness from which nothing escapes. The flows of essence were so badly strained, warped with such power, it was impossible to wield any counter magic.
Within moments her elite were wiped from existence entirely, unable to reforge themselves in our world. Thousands were slain instantly. The skies rained tears of blood. The tremendous spectacle of unrestrained violence, of sheer devastation, masked the enormity of what had just happened. Her forces obeyed mostly undead of the lesser demonic. And so, bringing forth the lesser demonic, her own horde was turned against her. We had summoned our own necromancers, and they had found her wanting.
And that was how Despana, greatest of the plaguelords, was slaughtered --- by the virtue and grace of the black arts. It was a singular event upon which one can only rebuke the inevitable or embrace it with total conviction, the kind of pivotal moment that changes the course of history forever. The Illistim can only make their case by lying through omission. Horrified by what they had just seen and felt, our cousins were in shock, turning away in terror from the Abyss. The very gods were silent.
III. False Dualities
To end here would only be an exercise in Faendryl apologetics, beating the truth over the head of the intransigent who have never been willing to admit it. No such apology is necessary, or forthcoming. Such efforts ultimately prove to be misguided. What issues from this wound is far more fundamental than usually understood. Within a flawed framework of understanding, no argument could ever be sufficient for revealing truth. It would be as futile as attempting to bring sanity to the lost souls in our asylums, for their minds are so out of joint with our reality that nothing is comprehensible. The Illistim philosopy of history is bereft of metaphysical value, rending such debates irresolvable until the flaw itself is destroyed.
For the chroniclers of Linsandrych's broken line, the historical consists solely of contingency. There is nothing but the antagonism of contrary, unnecessary forces at points of crisis, with the final conflict of an age embodying the essence of tragedy. There is a myth of heroes and villains in their discourse, however, where the pinnacle of prior existence must fall to a fatal flaw. Whoever is left standing becomes the steward of a lesser, shadowed past in a state of relative depravity. The end of history will be when all is balanced in the lowest state of being. When spoken out loud this is ridiculous. No one would admit to such foolishness, but nevertheless it is the guide rail for their grasp of the historical.
For the Drakes there were the Ur-Daemon, whose inexplicable arrival shattered the light of civilization. Civilization has no meaning prior to the Elven Empire, but somehow he imagines a mythical high society among the dragons, reading ourselves into beasts of vanity who have never shown any such talent. With their destruction supposedly rose the rule of slaves, and out of chaos came a pale imitation of the past. When order had reached its penultimate moment, the Mistress of Maelshyve destroyed all on a whim.
The Faendryl were banished, and with time, became the villain they so desired. Without this philosophy of history which masquerades as a work of reflection, so misrepresenting the intrinsic nature of reality, there would be no reason to regard the present as a Fourth Age. Their esteem for the rise of men as the price of their own mistakes, and their wish to think of savage imperialism as the very blood right of Balance, betrays a perverse self-loathing that is all but incomprehensible.
Through all of this, there is always the sin of hubris, from which there is always ruin. Those of the fallen must somehow be less than what they once were; the dragons no longer true dragons, the demonic not even demonic, the "Dark Elves" no longer Elves at all. The First Master of Lore is his finest on these points, somehow blaming the vicious facsimiles for dashing their own hope of peace and Elven unity, warping sense beyond all recognition. Forgiveness was as unearned as the assassin's blade it met. There has been no greater act of mercy in history than our pardon of the Nalfein. Where is Meachreasim to turn when facts turn against him?
He was only too willing to censor the most relevant point in the testimony of Rhak Toram, where the Dwarves disagreed with our Elven cousins, siding with the Faendryl on the question of the demonic and the death blow of Maelshyve. Such is the role of factuality in the Illistim philosophy, with airs of objectivity, yet all the impropriety of lascivious gossip. Something so "factual" as the Arkati being weaker than the Drakes, in spite of all common sense, may well be nothing more than a penchant for obscuring inconsistency with the veil of religion.
Most would agree with their interpretations, however implicit they may be, when no such truth inheres in the sequence of events. Whatever does not fit the bindings of their narrative is left unspoken. Among our people, the end of the First Age was triumph. Eorgina was the one who unleashed the Great Demons. Such a story cannot be admitted, for such would be the victory of darkness. Their own frustration, their own irresolvable politics, allowed chaos to reign. When the Elves rose from the forests, it was the Dhe'nar who fell to cataclysm. The Faendryl alone, among all people, rose to greatness. The world beyond us has fallen.
These are not mere vagaries of fate. The world is not a series of accidents, however much it may seem so from below. Throughout the span of an Age, there is an internal logic which works its course, exhausting its possibilities until there is nothing left. When the moment of crisis arrives, however much it may take us by surprise, it is only the revelation of contradictions. The Illistim hide this truth by imagining things were truly unknown; but the Drakes knew of the demonic, just as the Elves knew of the undead. Despana no more invented Undeath than Aramur Forean had before her. The inevitability of what followed was not the necessity of pure reason, much less the bloody nonsense of One and Mystery. It was the failure of will. When the diametric opposites of an Age meet in catastrophe, there is only ascension or annihilation. Whatever else remains falls into ruin.
It was largely the fault of the Illistim that magic was allowed to become inbred within "pure" realms, by which spellcraft could be eased by focusing on its limited aspects. The Faendryl have always preferred to retain unities, whether we speak of "the spiritual and elemental" as with sorcery, or the Arcane itself. What was left out from this scheme were the black arts which, though fellow travelers of sorcery, were based on so-called "dark" or "evil" essences from beyond the pale. It was the work of dark religions, and so were deemed dangerous. Such violence in the metaphysical order was bound to give way to violence.
Thus, there is no point in vilifying Despana, for she was merely the executioner of inevitability. Her role was to invert the greatest strength of the age, just as the Ur-Daemon had negated the very essence of magic. Her fall was no more predestined than our own, nor was hers the vice of hubris. Despana embodied the black arts, a purity from which she was unwilling to ascend.
It was in her dark mirror that we saw ourselves, in spite of our grandeur, as suffering within a backwards state of being: The imperial stagnation of our arms, the excesses of concern for temporal power, the meaninglessness of the immortality of flesh. Who was she mocking if not us, lording over men and orcs? "Is this truly what we are," Despana asked, "is this all we can become?" What we were confronted with was all that we had abandoned to follow a limited form of existence. Through the resolution of that contradiction, there was ascension to something essentially different; to wallow in an epoch that had been brought beyond its highest moment, there could only be an ever decaying, ever vestigial remnant of the past.
To the Illistim, there was only a return to the rote magic of old, tinkering with artifices without vision. There was no possibility of transcendence for the Nalfein, no respite from decadence for the Loenthra; the Ardenai still lived half an age further in the past. The Vaalor cling to this day the traditions which so utterly failed them. The Ashrim, most aloof of all, sought only the refuge of their ships, as though they were beyond the reach of history itself. The lesser races fell to the same fate as all pretenders who would walk among gods. It is no surprise that severing the singular force of unity of the Elven Empire would lead only to ever greater collapse.
Unfortunately, tragedy has followed in the wake of our own mistakes, wherever we have tried to turn back from the Abyss. Nostalgia for our prior rule often blinds us to the irredentism that preceded Despana, like unrequited lovers who all too often obsess over imagined betrayals, when truly the flaws of other courtships allowed only the possibility of being spurned. Pity is the proper emotion, as though burying a fallen child, not resentment ill-suited for the Third Age. Whenever we have attempted to go backwards, such as with Chesylcha, we were burned for being soft hearted. To wed times so out of joint was explosive in the same way --- perhaps, ultimately, for the same reason --- as cursing a holy blade.
World history is the crucible for the mettle of races, some melting in the flames of havoc, others rising as aether in the alembic of being. Whoever fails such a test becomes broken, stepped upon in the ascension of higher peoples. And so it is that history does not repeat itself, but rather time unfurls in echoes of recurrences from the wounds of ultraviolence, reaching across the scales of microcosm within the higher reality. There is a role for contingency, but in the freedom to rise or fall, just as one may look forwards or backward.
Fate is not always a cruel master. There is time, still, for our kin to right themselves. They may join us in their own pilgrimage to Rhoska-Tor, becoming purified in both flesh and spirit, beyond good and evil, claiming the native tongue of the valences with which we are all born. We no longer concern ourselves with petty imperialism and imaginary borders of land, seeking instead to become the masters of existence itself. But the hour is dark, and not all are braced. Ask yourselves, "Who has become the prey of history?"
For us the Horned Cabal have been an amusement, humanity a nuisance, the great terrors of recent years unworthy of concern. With the rise of world threatening powers, and as the gods have openly waged war upon each other or sought to walk the earth, the ways of old are quickly becoming eclipsed by those who would wield the dark arts. At a whim we may destroy the world, unleashing forces greater than the gods, whom we have treated with for millennia. There is no black art which might surprise us, no necromancer's guile that would impress, and all who know better have given us wide berth.
Those of the old nations would do well to consider the unprecedented chaos of the past few decades. Their city-states now exist only as islands in a sea of orcs and trolls, when once Elves could walk the breadth of the empire unarmed without fear. The world is on the precipice of a tidal shift, and those not ready to rise with it will be lost to the Abyss. The twilight of the idols begins, and all who fall with them, too, shall become the myths of powers long past. When we tell our own children what had preceded them, there will only be the inevitability of the exile, those who banished themselves rather than embrace their higher destiny.