The Seven World Continuum
It has become increasingly apparent to me that the Silver Age cannot come to an end with a Barbarian invasion like I had planned. First, the logistics are daunting, and second, the methods are not sound. I need a much more natural explanation for the fall of the great Gilded Kingdoms, and for what rises to replace them. It could be yet another magical “natural” disaster; in the end it will probably be thus if my past attempts at age-ending have been any indication.
However, it seems to me that I should try a new approach and one that is less magically motivated. Perhaps a great alliance between the economically dominant houses of the Center is foiled by war, and its effects ripple even to the outskirts of the Continent. Perhaps a complex combination of factors go into this, such as a concerted attack on the trade between these allied nations; this is seen as an underhanded ploy by many in the alliance, increasing suspicions of all the other parties and bringing the nations to the brink of an all-out war. Then the plague hits: a magical plague that seems to have little available cure. This ravages the nations of the alliance, although the attacks on the trade routes continue unabated. Since so far the plague is limited to the Center and the nations of the alliance, many of the nobility and wealthy merchants (if they retain a distinction between the two) begin to flee their countries.
At this point a part of the plot is revealed: the plague is the work of a cabal of mages who seek the overthrow of the alliance for the magical artifacts they have, many of which remain from before the Golden Age. This is revealed crucially when the merchant-nobles take their most treasured and therefore also most magically powerful treasures with them. Unsurprisingly, the cabal learns of their flight and causes the plague to travel with them. In this manner the extra-magical plague extends to the corners of the whole earth. Although it is doubtful that the cabal could have contained or influenced its spread while it was limited to the original trade alliance, they certainly cannot keep ahold of it now that it has spread far and wide.
The cabal is located in a set of three towers somewhat to the northwest of the central trade state. There are at least three powerful wizards among them styling themselves archmages who each rule an aspect of the cabal and often come into conflict. Perhaps the cabal was founded/ruled by a fourth ‘senior’ archmage who proposed the current plot: to decimate the land with plague and then take as meany of the artifacts as they want. Maybe they use phylacteries or some other such device to assure them of long enough life to outlast the devastation of whole regions. The promise of not only powerful artifacts from before the dawn of time but also large swaths of land to rule (and fearful but emaciated subjects to rule over) united the cabal of otherwise quarreling mages to a single purpose.
After the complex spells were worked by the senior archmage and rituals from forbidden branches of magic that were all but exterminated during the strong years of the Alliance, a very few vials of the contagion were created before the rare and precious materials were used up. Shortly after the vials’ creation, when the senior archmage was at his weakest, a demonic beast of the outer realms ravaged the man and broke his soul before retreating to the realm from which it was summoned [this needs a lot of help. the 7WC does not have ‘outer realms’ or demonic beasts.’ but for now you get the picture]. In any event, the master of the contagion was now dead, and the architect of the plan as well.
The spreading of the plague came then to the three remaining archmages, each with his own tower full of disciples to control. (A fourth tower that had held the senior archmage was abandoned because of the vials of contagion and the feelings of dread left by the elder beast.) It was finally decided that the vials should be snuck into a wealthy merchant’s trade caravan since the plague was, after all, designed to seek out and cling to the wealthy and the greedy. However, the contagion was also highly deadly to come into contact with regardless, so the Council of Three duped a small task force of mages into carrying the vials into civilized lands with the intent of leading a band of mercenaries in an attack trade routes the rich and powerful used. However, proximity to the contagion was enough to kindle all the mages with the disease and they hardly got it to the staging point before they all were laid waste by the illness. All but one of the mages died of the illness, and the one that survived dragged himself to shelter and remained there, scarred, emaciated, and weak fro some time.
Next, the Council cleansed the area around the package of vials of the bodies (and, so they hoped, of the disease). Then they hired mercenaries to deliver the package in among others that were being taken to the premier merchant lord of the land (the kingdom directly south and west of the cabal’s territory). The package had been disguised to look like a sumptuous shipment of the kind this noble was used to receive, and the orders given to the mercenaries were to attack a caravan, get close enough to the wagons to slip the package inside (retrieving a like package if they could) and then to run away, leaving the caravan mostly intact, but rattled so that they would make all haste to their destination and the merchant lord.
This plan worked flawlessly — until the mercenaries began to show signs of the illness. They got near enough tot he caravan, but did not have the strength to assault it. The contagion was spread to the caravan so not all was lost. Soon the plague began to break out in that land and the cabal’s purpose was seemingly achieved. In time, the caravans spread the disease in its innocuous stage along their trade routes so that it became full flowered in many regions all at once and caused a huge panic among the alliance.
(The original plan was to deliver only one vial to each of the targeted merchant lords; the caravan masters would only begin to show signs of sickness when past the borders of their destination countries. Instead of following this plan, the archmages sent out all the vials simultaneously in their fear of both the contagion and the senior archmage’s grisly end, thus destroying any hope of their safe delivery. The mercenaries and mage messengers became afflicted with the disease so quickly and so savagely, therefore, because they were in close physical proximity to its purest, most concentrated, and most magical form.)
(The disease, as conceived by the senior archmage and those before him who had elaborated the rituals for such a thing, has three stages. The first stage is the most innocuous one: no symptoms are shown in the patient, yet the disease is spreading throughout the body. This stage can last for several weeks. During the second stage, the patient breaks out into a rash all across his/her body and then big pustules like buboes begin to appear all over the patient’s body. The second stage lasts for a week or two; about ten days. In the final stage of the disease, the pustules begin to change into fantastically beautiful colors (but which are incredibly disturbing to see on the human body as part of an illness) such as teal, bright orange, and oil-slick blue. The patient also suffers a mental assault at this time in which all the patient’s secrets are broken open, and all other walls they have constructed mentally are erased. After such a mental break, the patient would be declared mentally insane if he/she had survived. During stage three the patient talks constantly; most of it is nonsense, but some of what he/she says is the secrets they had been keeping. Stage three lasts for only a few days. It is in this stage that the disease is most clearly seen as magical. Contrary to popular belief, the disease is not contagious in its third and final form: the contagion has finished with the body and except for a sheen over the buboes concerns itself mostly with the mind in its final stage. The disease is much more contagious in stage one, when the patient doesn’t even know that he/she is afflicted.)
Meanwhile the lone mage survivor of the attack experiences stage four of the disease: survival. His appearance has been ravaged by the disease and has become immune to it. His very substance has changed as well: no longer driven by the need for food or water, the mage is free to think about other things. The mage’s internal barriers were torn down by the disease, revealing much to him that he had only guessed at before. Sometimes study into the magical arts reveals to the gifted mind a more complete tapestry than can be comprehended by any mortal. The mortal mind thus receiving this wealth of information must shut down or ignore parts of this new memory or risk madness. For most mages who are receptive in this way to the Song of the Divine, all this knowledge passes into them unawares, and their mental reflexes are so good that they never realize their true potential. To those who are so blessed, incredible power is given, even if it can be operated and explored only on the subconscious level.
This mage survivor was one such individual; it may even be that his exposure to this greater power is what saved him from death at the hands of the illness. In any case, he remained in control of his faculties and a great deal of power after the disease left him. He was even free from his old mortal cares and seemed to require no food or drink to nourish his body. The only one thing he desired was to reclaim and cherish the concentrated vials of contagion that had made him this way. He set off to find them, and make them his talisman.
Much of the power that the mage was now aware he had continued to operate on the subconscious level; through it he began to save many of those around him from death at the hands of the illness. They all became like him in appearance: with ravaged faces and bodies. They also shared his disregard for sustenance. But most importantly they lusted after the vials of contagion, which the mage soon had in his possession. He began to gather a people about him: those he had saved from the disease. In time the mage’s sensitivity to the contagion increased and he began to lead his people on what he considered a holy war: to reclaim the contagion from the very bodies which suffered from it.
Meanwhile, one of the mages in the cabal began conducting research into the senior archmage’s ambitious project. He comes to the conclusion that the fourth stage of this illness was determined to be a side effect to grant the mages of the cabal long life: it would finally spare anyone with an intuitive grasp of the magical arts. Observing this note, the mage proceeds to study the growing group of magical entities that are now plaguing the Alliance, and realizes that one of the messenger mages must have survived and somehow begun converting people from the illness into his ravaged followers.
Now the cabal must undertake to stop this growing assortment of disease-ravaged entities without succumbing to the disease themselves. Perhaps the artifacts can help. And perhaps it is time for a few pieces of the True Legacy to come forth and save the day. Perhaps the cabal is unable or unwilling to finish what they have unwittingly started. Maybe it is time for Seyat and his party to step to the plate and save the day by delivering it into the Second Dark Age.
Can this become Tears of the Silver Age?