Beginning of the End
Whether it was by some stroke of luck, divine intervention, or a demonstration of your own indefatigable will, you managed to bring Ahrenia back from the brink. It took momentous effort not only from you, but from the few living souls still left within Melvor, who desperately fought back Bane's creatures while you were away.
You and Ahrenia limp back to the Capital. Days, weeks, or even months could have flown by in the time it took you both to walk through the war-ravaged lands surrounding the battered and broken towns and villages dotted throughout the charred landscape. Silent followers follow after the two of you as you made your way back. They had nowhere else to go. The Capital was the last bastion of safety they knew of, so they trail behind you, like moths following a small spark of hope in the night. Idle chatter mentioned other cities out in the mist, filled with survivors, holding out hope that they could weather whatever comes next.
A glimmer of relief washes over the crowd's soot-covered faces as you and Ahrenia walk through the Capital's gates. There are far fewer people, even here, than when you first left. Your entourage of weary soldiers and scarred peasants dissipate into the crowd, thankful to be amongst the living, and behind solid walls.
The ruler of the Capital welcomes the two of you with open arms, thankful to have a modicum of the burden lifted from her shoulders. She allows you both within the palace, which appears to have been converted into equal parts command center and soup kitchen. Rations are being dolled out to a line of hungry children while soldiers anxiously eye the sky and run to and fro.
Over the next few days, you rest. Ahrenia tentatively knocks on your door from time to time, bringing in people she's deemed as potentially helpful. Each of them recounts similar tales of Bane, The Dark Entity. How he appears from seemingly nowhere, often without warning, bombarding places with a rain of fire before a choking carpet of black mist sweeps in shortly after.
You managed to keep a running history of all that occurred from the numerous visitors you had. It's said that Bane was first spotted as The Four sequestered themselves away, deep within their dungeons. His dark mist swept over the entirety of the eastern lands, with those who succumbed to it raising back up once again. Droves of these undead creatures swept through the land, cutting a bloody swath all the way up to the Eastern Capital.
It was there that some of the best warriors and mages stood their ground against Bane's army for an entire day, fighting on nothing but determination alone, long after their bodies had failed them. The tides turned in their favor, and the undead horde was driven back... until Bane appeared from the sky. Almost effortlessly, he made fire rain from the sky, not only tearing apart what was left of those defending the city, but shattering the walls in mere moments.
The undead eagerly destroyed the ravaged defense forces, which of course rose shortly after their deaths to join the ever-increasing horde. Massive fires broke out, consuming neighborhoods in minutes as the scattered and horrified civilians did all they could to escape. Few did. And of the few that managed to escape the slaughter, fewer still managed to hold onto their sanity after seeing those horrors. Any place not surrounded by thick walls had already surely fallen, much like the hamlets and villages you and Ahrenia passed through as you returned to the Capital.
Ahrenia let you digest the information and history over the course of a day before approaching you as you leave your room for the first time since entering the palace.
"Bane will come here, eventually. They're only growing in power as more cities fall to him and his horde."
You nod. You're unsure of what drives him, but you already knew for certain he'd be coming here sooner or later.
Ahrenia was always said to be a hero, one who traded everything in exchange for incredible power. She was passionate, outspoken, and a natural-born leader. But now, she stands here, weary and pleading. Whatever confidence she once held herself with was gone, bleakly accepting the situation. She slumps against the wall and allows herself to slowly slide to the floor.
"I don't know if you've heard. I almost struck him down, once."
Your lips part, speaking for the first time in days. "And that's when you were lost to the mist?"
Ahrenia seems almost surprised at hearing your voice, almost as if she didn't expect to be heard. "Yes. He... Bane... Called out. To a man called The Herald. He said he failed him. The Herald... a least a man claiming to be him... was the same man that gave me my power."
"This... Herald. Could he be playing both sides? And... to what end?"
She only sadly shakes her head before sighing deeply and raising once again. "I have no idea... All I know is that we need to be ready for whatever happens. This might not end with Bane alone..."
"How long have we got?"
She shrugs, before giving a slight smile. "I dunno. Could be a day. Could be a year. Whatever happens, if you were able to pull me out of that mist... I think we've got a shot. Rest up." She claps you hard on the shoulder before turning back to her room.
You need to be ready. You have to be.