Ah, isn’t a good breakfast worth the wait? I may dislike mornings, but I do adore a breakfast. Alright then, let’s see, where were we?
Four thousand three hundred twenty-one families stood upon the green shore of a furious unknown sea, wracked by storms, great hailstones hurling, and they had neither shelter nor safety, and through the whole ordeal, no help, no aid, no promises fulfilled.
Drawing inland, the took shelter in a great forest, and as the weather settled, they began to take stock of what they had. Nearly 28,000 people, they were all that had survived of the Bright Host. In a hundred years, less than 1% of the population was left. They were only Elfin and Dwarfs and Humans, though, with a few halflings – the Tritons had been left to fend for themselves alongside only around 5,000 Islanders. Those who had gone into Exile before ethe war suffered horribly during the cataclysm, reduced to only around 49 small families.
Among the Foe, things were only marginally better, but they were dropped away from the battlefield unprepared, unaware, and scattered on islands and the regions that would become Lemuria, and Duat, and Thule almost overnight. Across the tossed sea, the survivors and peoples faced their own insignificance before the true power of whatever it was that had done so much.
The Foe isolated, licked wounds, and their small numbers allowed them to begin to forge the cultures and peoples that they became, even as the people would become Thalasians and the Tritons and their halfling children regrouped in the sunken halls of Keris and the long, rounded homes of Islandia. On the fields of Hyboria, a people looked to the sky as the storm’s clouds began to recede and began the first stirrings of moving into the seven sects that would define them.
This was the state of the world in the days following the end of the God’s War.
Bereft of resources, of belongings, of shelter, left to their own devices with wounded and the elderly and children.
Six Gods had died, and the face of the world was shattered and crushed, as was the hope of all the peoples.
Know this: in those moments, those few initial days, the former Bright Host turned its back on their Gods, though even they had to acknowledge that they were indeed, Power in the World, and that their wills could change everything, and so that was when they stopped being Gods, and became the Powers That Be.
Those who survived the Siege notices that they had the sea before them, and cliffs with a narrow, rubble strewn path behind, and between were the things they needed to begin to build a home. Yet, before they completed the first home and planted the first fields from the seeds and other things, they were attacked by a beast the like none had ever seen before in all the history of the world. Immense it was, a mountain with wings that blotted the sky around them. Claws as long as the arms of a full-grown man, teeth larger than the tallest man, a massive maw the exhaled flames that burned even if they were only close.
This was a Dragon, and it was not the last that would harass and hound them in the many years ahead, but after the first one left, two came the next day, and three the day after that, and the people decided they would use the plants for seeds and the trees for wagons and carts and weapons and then they climbed the cliff, all of them, and so six months after the Siege, they began the Bitter Road, The Bleak Journey, that was to define them for a thousand years.
Travelling with hand drawn carts and wagons, the elderly and children, the need to rest, the need to find ways of surviving like the creation of wagons that could hold crops, and wagons filled with barrels for water; the valley they moved through, ringed by mountains and sheer slopes, was a scrub land, a near desert, fiery hot in the summer and bitterly cold in winter, sometimes snowing a dozen feet in a storm. Rain fell sporadically, often just in the smallest amounts. It was slow, and it was grueling, and after five years of this slow, grueling slog, they became a more solid, a more unified people, but not yet the indomitable sorts. A decade in, and strong leaders had formed, able to guide and look out for those that fell into their charge, and the needs of the many were divided and so it was that slowly but surely what would become the Five Hundred Families came to be, and for the next century they would define the way the people responded to threats and chose leaders and survived. They told themselves and their children, their grandchildren and great grandchildren, that one day this Journey would end, and they would come to a sea, and there they would build their own paradise.
At one point in the long journey, though, division did set in, for the wide valley was inhospitable and the leaders bickered and differed and finally, one night, an entire cadre left and sought their own path, their own way, one that wasn’t slow and plodding one that was filled with strength and adaptability, and they found a pass, a small side vale, and they overcame a dragon to enter it, the corpse of the monster left in their wake, and they vanished.
As they struggled onwards, they were fell upon by swift, animalistic raiders, dragon attacks, horrible storms, and through all of it they persevered, though soon all they had were rotting carts and staggering people and death was a constant companion. It is said that no mile of the Bleak Journey was not marked by the deaths of many, through all the long years.
And then, about halfway through their bitter road, the world shook and cracked and shuddered and sighed once again. The skies turned stormy, and lightning and thunder would flash and strike and yet the air would be as still as the people themselves.
For eighteen moons this went on, and they knew not what was happening, what was going on. And they would not learn then, for soon all things calmed and the skies cleared, and they began to march once more. It was then that the Powers That Be remade the world, and fixed the Dimensions, and set the planes, all part of work they would do for decades to come.
And though many guessed, all knew that such things meant that they had been forgotten, and abandoned, and betrayed.
The land within the valley would let no crops grow, the sky would let little rain fall, the mountains would let no one pass. It was forward, ever forward, a trudging, monotonous movement that cared not for the ill nor the infirm, that ravaged them with disease and allowed the Dragons and the Salathen to attack and slay and maim and scar the very hearts of the peoples.
Barbarian hordes of half-human, half-animal people would raid and steal away children, leaving sticks and woven grasses in their place, steal rations and water, steal weapons and fabric.
Snakes and desert wolves, the hot sun, it was so horrible a time that what finally stumbled out of the Fiery Desert at the Pass of Despair was barely alive, malnourished to an extreme never seen since.
It should be said that the skies changed almost daily during the long march. That the earth shook. That the stars themselves changed – legend says that at one point they were not even there in the sky. The Mountains that defied them and left them stuck among the treachery of the ever-changing path they took trembled and on some days were taller, on others shorter. But above all else, it should be noted that the world that had been was gone, erased, the remains and the leavings were erased, and over the three generations, the knowledge of the Ancient Land, Ackyu, was lost.
The Bleak Journey was generations long, miles of the barest food, merest water, slimmest chances, most meager survival as those few, said to be less than one percent of all who had lived before the God’s War took knowledge and life and history with it, sought a refuge to begin again.
No Powers That Be came to help. No children were spared. No hearts were soothed, no balms were given. Abandoned to a world that did not want them there any longer, the people struggled and to this day we have learned the lessons of that era of Dread. Those fashioned in the war were left to their own devices, second thoughts. They were never able to form their own communities, their own “homelands, so they do not have some of the things most people might think they have. Elfin and Dwarfs became part of the mass of people who struggled in the aftermath. Who suffered alongside everyone else, who were relegated to the back of the vast chain of humanity as it snaked along.
But they were not forgotten. Around the 118th year, generations which had only ever known the Bitter Road, entire lives spent on a march that had to be done because there was no place else to go, stumbled around a bend in the valley, and spread out before them was The Garden. Within it were fresh wagons, fresh water, fresh food, meat, which many had never known, fish, farm animals, and more than enough for each family to have the needed stock. Some tales speak about how there was even lumber. But there was also a warning: The Garden could only be stayed in for three years. Thus warned, those who led the Five Hundreds, as they called themselves in those days, trained by the rigors to use sparingly and treat with care, remained for only the three years, before continuing the bitter road beyond the Great Respite.
Now, many will say that the Bitter Road could not have taken so long, they will point to maps, and they will say that it was not that long, that the valleys are far wider than the ancient tales say, that the mountains are not nearly so tall. They will be the young that do this, the newly learned, and they will have forgotten that the path one can suspect may not have been the path that was taken, though most believe that it is merely what is left of the path, for did not the whole of the world change? Were not the lands sculpted and changed beyond recognition? What they see, and some still dare to traverse, is what was left of the great Journey, after the End of the World.
Births and deaths, life and loss, fathers to sons, mothers to daughters. Four thousand three hundred twenty-one families went in, 28,000 strong. Five Hundred Families came out, 17,000 strong, generations away from those who had walked in. They were a hard people, a tough and strong and determined people. They were a people that had never fought nor seen a Goblin, heard of Kobolds as myths, thought Thyrs were a boogeyman meant to scare children, and mocked at the idea of Ips. They had fought dragons the size of Villages and defeated waves of raiders from the sure foot mountain beast folk, whom we today call the Lost Sect. They were the Bright Peoples.
They emerged into the woods of Sibola and began to face the wild beasts and strange remnants, always moving forward because they knew not how to do anything else by that time, until, at long last, they came to a sea, where, to a person, they wept.
There they made a camp of scant thousands. So was Sibola founded, among tents and wagons along the shore of a vast sea and beside the waters of a river. A monthlong celebration was held, and fresh fish were caught, and fowl downed and roasted, and woven reed and wood strip tents were laid out, and at the end of it, the one who led them from the Garden was chosen to be King, and he named the city they began to build after his daughter, and that is how the House of Usher rose from the Fall and became the Kings of Sibola.
In Sibola they teach to use the Glaive and bear the Shield, they pass their knowledge and skills, they defend what they have and protect what could come. They learned that they do not need the Powers That Be, and so from that Bleak Journey, the Humans became the Imperials of this world, and knew they needed no Powers That Be who would murder them all, knew they had a power that rivalled all, knew they could reshape all the things needed.