The Rise of The Fallen
You walk through a gray, dusty plain. A storm crackles overhead, and in the distance, you can see the jagged peaks of a mountain range. You come to a gate. Beyond the gate is a maze of pathways, leading towards the horizon. There are several pathways to choose from, but you are unsure of where to go, so you turn to the robed man beside you for advice.
“Can you tell me, sir, which way I ought to go from here?” You ask.
The figure is tall yet rail thin. He is garbed in black robes turned gray from the dust of the plain. He leans on a long, charred staff made from the leg bone of a giant. He considers your question, and then says, “That depends a great deal on where you want to get to.
“I don’t much care where…” you begin. He interrupts.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
”..so long as I get somewhere.” You finish.
He is silent for a moment, and then says. “Oh you’re bound to do that. They all lead to the same destination, eventually.” He points, and you can see the shimmer of water in the distance, and you know that it is the River of Time, where all souls will come when they die.
“Perhaps it’s best if I don’t know where I’m going.” You say.
The robed figure seems amused by this. “You can walk the path backwards, looking only towards where you’ve been. Or you can walk the path forwards, and see where you are headed. It does not matter to the path which way you walk it. It will have the same branches, detours, potholes, and monsters along it, regardless. By walking backwards, you will stumble more often, and you will not be prepared for the obstacles you will face, or the choice of paths you will need to make. By walking forwards, you may make better decisions and avoid more dangers, but the path will lead you to your destination no matter what you chose. Some things you will see, but be unable to avoid; others you can see in time to choose a different route.”
You consider this. You thank the robed man for his advice and take a step on the path. And then you awaken.
The Danse Macabre
You find yourself dancing in an elegant ballroom, swirling about the floor with The Jack of Ashes. You dance gaily to a funeral waltz as he sweeps you through the crowd.
The Jack of Ashes is dressed elegantly in noble finery, with a wide-brimmed hat sporting a large feather, his face obscured behind the mask of Comedy.
You look from him to gaze into the wide mirror reflecting the crowd. He is not there with you in the mirror. You also see that there are others dancing with partners who do not reflect. As you watch, more people vanish from the mirror, though they remain in the ballroom. No one has noticed this yet. No one but you.
Horror grips you as the people vanish. They must be warned, before they are all gone! “Vampires!” you scream.
The Jack of Ashes laughs in glee at your outburst. “Vampires!?” He shouts mockingly. “We can’t have vampires here! We must destroy the vampires!”
The room descends into chaos, as the partygoers lash out against each other. None of them look into the mirror. None of them can see which are the true vampires and which aren’t, and soon they tear each other apart, and you are alone with the Jack of Ashes, who laughs and laughs and laughs…and then you awaken.
The Jack of Ashes
And you are in the center of a town that is doomed to die. You can see the people running, slowly, as if through the water instead of air. There something weighing down on your chest…you can’t breathe…a shadow falls. And as the shadow falls, it burns, and rots, and everything falls apart. The sun has died. It has become a cold, black cinder in the sky, and the ashes are falling across the world. And you turn, and hear laughter.
There is a skeleton, dancing merrily through the ruins. He wears a large, floppy hat and twirls his devilish mustache in joy. “Come! Come dance with me, world! Just like the pied piper, who led rats through the streets! Dance like the marionettes swaying to the symphony of destruction!”
And he closes in on you, and you can’t breath, and he reaches out. You can see a heart, made of black and shriveled stone, beating in his chest. If only you could move, you could destroy it.
The Jack of Ashes laughs as he watches you struggle. “Yes, puppet! Break it! Break my heart, and make me eternal!”
And you feel his bony fingers close around your wrist…then you awaken.
Heed! The golden army marches towards the city of the saint, lead by the lord gale in the riven dale. They will come with fire, burning the ring of vines to ash and sweeping away the silver wind!
Lo! The Jack of Ashes laughs as love dies! The hollow men, faceless, burn, leaving their widows to despair. He seeks to ruin hope!
See! A piper waits in a hall of nightmares for the sign of his lord’s return. The bee is his sworn foe, the ant his cautious friend. He will give the key to the clockwork king, and bring two worlds together!
Beware! The autumn wind grows cold, and grasps the bloody blades. He sends a bitter gust to reap the slayers!
Hear! The heartless king watches over his golden empire, stamping the many into one. As long as he rules, the Feywild will not let him die!
Lo! The lord of dust sifts the ashes of the doomed city for the pages of doom. He holds three dooms, and all who hear his final words shall be cursed by them!
The lordly gale of the riven dale sets his eyes skyward as the autumn storm chills the dawning spring. Blades of winter follow on the heels of the hounds of the wild hunt, while mischief and strife tear the faceless unity apart.
From the wings of fallen angels the Jack of Ashes tears a feathery blade. Thus armed, he sows the seeds that wither faith, taken from the bones of clarity. The Host descends to purge the taint with flame, but leave only bitter ash behind.
In halls fashioned from nightmares, two worlds grow closer. Old ghosts, twisted and shrieking, flow from a crack in the seal. The clockwork kings have been ensnared by the malevolent mechanism, and the day grows close when the final repairs will be made and the key turned.