The Whitefire Chronicles
~ On a letter, dated Year 254 in the Age of Victory, written in an elegant hand. ~
To the Recipient of this Notice,
I would like to begin, if I may, with a story that I hope will provide a bit of context for what is to follow.
It has been supposed by scholars and philosophers that there could be a great many realms. Some say that there are realms above and below where beings of great good and evil reside, ever watching for ways to tempt us. Some say that there are realms beyond the veil of death where our ancestors sit in judgment, eager to guide us on our journey. Some suggest even that there are other realms – some not so very unlike our own – lost beyond the veil of time. We cannot say for certain if any of this is true.
For we know of only one other realm where humankind has gone and returned. The Realm of the Fae.
The peoples of the Fae are not like human people. Their bodies are small, but mighty. Their minds are a storehouse of knowledge gathered over centuries, for the Fae do not age as humans do. Their kind mastered the powers of sorcery thousands of years ago, long before they brought those secrets here to this realm where such powers had never been seen before.
And so it was that when they came, they came as conquerors.
The Fae Warlords enslaved the human world for almost three thousand years. The names of the nations they conquered are lost now, as it is with much else of our history. They reshaped the lands and their peoples, building great cities on foundations of blood and fear. They made war upon one another with armies of humans as pawns, and when they found the flesh of humanity wanting they engaged in dark sorcery and cruel experimentation to mold the bodies of their slaves into something more fit for their purposes.
Through their designs it was that the mighty Oorks and the ferocious Veir came to walk the human lands, just as it was through their neglect that the half-blood Aelves born of Fae and humankind were allowed to flourish, shunned as they were from the eyes of their Fae sires. Thus were the Fae the architects of their own undoing.
For amongst the Oorks rose up a mighty leader: General Hadra, who led her people to cast off their chains in the warlike lands of ancient Findar. Hadra led the Findari peoples against their Fae despots, who had grown so lax and comfortable in their palaces that they had not considered how vast their armies had become until they turned upon their masters. One by one, Harda's army over-ran the Fae palaces, liberated their cities and collapsed their portals back to the Fae realm. Hadra won freedom for Findar in but six bloody years, reclaiming what had taken the Warlords more than a century to finally bring to heel.
Across the seas, the news of Findar reached the ears of other nations. Karthos was the next to rise up, rebelling against the cruelest oppression any nation had ever known with the ruthless fury their Fae Overlords had taught them. In peaceful Shulnar the farmers burned their fields and sailed out into the vast seas, dropping their weapons overboard and leaving their Faebord Kings to starve. In distant Farothe the warrior tribes were set upon by monstrosities born of corrupted magic, but it was the tribes who proved themselves the more ferocious of the two. In Mynnos envoys from the human freedom fighters treated with the court of the legendary Archmage Vand the Hungry. Though he was Fae himself Vand became an ally to them, for he had great love in his heart for his vast half-human family.
And in the land now called Methalia, a lowly town guard by the name of Joan dedicated herself to freeing her town from servitude. And once her city was free, she dedicated herself to freeing her province, and then her nation, and then the whole of her people's lands from sea to sea. Joan of Methalia became the greatest general of her age, winning battle after battle not with force of numbers and selfless courage as mighty Hadra had done, but with the greatness of her leadership and her dedication to the righteousness of her cause.
Hers was the most desperate battle of all, for the Fae had come to realize that they were losing the war. Their forces were dwindling for they commanded only through fear, and their magics were reaching their limits from constant use. In their desperation, the last of the Fae Warlords fell back further and further into southern Methalia, into a land known as Xir where the last stable portal to the Fae realm stood. When they arrived they gathered their might and sundered the land, cutting Xir free from the mainland in hopes that their show of power would buy them some respite.
But in their neglect, the waves from the sundered isle washed with terrible strength upon the shores of distant Mynnos, and in so doing they slew many of the kin of the great Archmage Vand . Vand replied with a fury unspeakable in mere words, and rained the wrath of a true Fae Archmage upon them for seven days and nights, buying time for the forces of Joan to make an untroubled landing upon the Isle of Xir.
Yet Joan did not attack, for she could see all too clearly that this conflict could not be concluded by mere butchery of her enemy. In her wisdom, she instead gathered to her all of the greatest warriors of their age. Some history remembers as heroes, others as villains, but all were legends even in their own time. Mighty Hadra, Joan of Methalia, Raga the Silver Wolf, Keldon Auldgard, Nikura Deadheart and a handful of others banded together with common purpose. With Vand as their guide they journeyed in secret through the enemy's portal to confront the Fae on their own ground.
There they discovered the tragic truth – that the Fae Warlords had been outcasts and failures amongst their own people, and their cruel legacy had been casually overlooked by the Elder Fae, who had gladly sent off to a foreign realm to be forgotten. The arrival of the humans was a sobering and chilling discovery, for here was a handful of mortal warriors who now stood toe to toe with the mighty Fae as equals, demanding that the Fae recall their errant sons or face invasion from the land of humanity.
The Fae, humbled by Joan and her fellows, complied. The portal to the human realm was placed under strict guard on both sides, and to this day the Ilse of Xir remains a forbidden place to all but those who guard it.
And so ended fifteen years of war. Peace briefly spread across the lands of humanity as people returned home and began new lives. Sadly, it was not to last, for just as the Fae's strength gave them a hunger for power so too do humans grow hungry when given a measure of strength, and it was not long before conflict resumed as the weaker nations of the world began to be swallowed up by the strong.
As for the legendary figures who had forged this new age, some faded into obscurity. Some like Joan and Hadra continued to lead their people, and their bloodlines yet stand at the heads of the nations they freed. But a few saw the value of unity across the cultures and races of humanity that went beyond borders. A force that would answer to no government, but serve any equally if the cause was just and the price was fair. A private army, ready to answer the call if any future ruler chose to take the wrong lessons from the example of the Fae.
That force called itself Whitefire Company. Which brings me back to my purpose in writing you today.
Upon the first day of summer, the Whitefire Company shall be marking the anniversary of its 250th year, which incidentally coincides with our 125th bi-annual candidate selection and evaluation. For whatever reasons they may have, the evaluators of this year's contest have selected you, good reader, as one of this year's candidates.
On behalf of the selection committee and the adjudicating body, may I be the first to congratulate you on this achievement. Whitefire Company's reputation speaks for itself; our membership includes experts in martial combat, arcane sorcery, espionage, battlefield strategy, and countless other fields equally worthy of esteem. That we would offer you an opportunity to challenge our examination is a compliment of the highest order, and we hope that you will choose to return out courtesy by delivering yourself to the town of Queen's Rest in central Methalia on the eve of summer's first day, to attend a reception in honor of the event and to submit yourself for the examination to follow.
You are free to refuse this nomination. You may burn this message and think nothing more of it, if you so choose. You could give it away, or even sell it if you feel so inclined. But know this: this message is your invitation, but it is also required for admission. If anyone other than you arrives with this invitation, you shall never receive another like it so long as you live. (And, to be candid, this letter is all that is required for admission, so please consider that there may be those who have been denied this opportunity who may choose to seize on yours, if given the chance.)
We are Whitefire. We are the best there is. Join us, if you can.
Whitefire Company Chairman