The sun pressed with heavy hands on Himthel’s back and neck, threatening to overpower his already trembling knees as he stumbled through the surrounding destruction. A fiery wind tore at his fraying cloak and pulled at his ash spotted beard with vicious fingers, sucking the moisture from flaking, burning skin.
Around him charred blackness extended as far as the eye could see, an enormous coppery sun commanding the wasteland like a ruthless dictator. Twisted forms of blasted trees were his only companions as he took each laboring step, every press of his tattered boots a testament to his resolve. Ahead, shimmering dreamlike in the heat, was a vast obsidian tower with the crown blown off, set like a decaying wound against the snow-capped Summer Mountains. Nothing moved for miles. Nothing living ventured into The Desolation. Even the sky was free of birds and no insects chirped or stirred. It had been half a century since man had dared make the journey to the ruined temple, but an unforgiving purpose drove Himthel forward at the point of a twisting spear.
He was nearly delusional with heat and thirst when he reached the crumbling steps of the temple, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads. He began his ascent slowly and it was nearly sunset when he at last achieved the upper most platforms, half crawling on blackened hands and bloodied knees. Once the temple had been made of the finest stone and marble, the careful, dedicated work of four generations of his brethren, now it was only a blasted skeleton of itself. Wavering and rasping, Himthel made his way into the gaping maw of the central citadel. Silhouettes of twisted, incinerated bodies decorated the walls of the circular chamber within, an immortal mural of the horrible terror that had been unleashed and all that remained of his acolytes and peers.
Above the broken tower rose to a shadowy zenith, the bloodied sun only a distant pinprick. Hovering several feet above the rubble and ash, illuminated in a thin ray of sunlight, hung a figure cloaked in white and gold.
“I didn’t think I would see you again, brother,” the figure said, turning gradually. Framed in a gold threaded hood was an achingly handsome man of indeterminable age. Flaxen hair hung down to his trim waist and golden eyes gleamed and shifted.
“You are not my brother,” Himthel rasped and his voice was like sand across dusty floors.
The god-like creature looked crestfallen, “How cruel, have I not been magnanimous, brother? I let you live, after all.”
Himthel fell to his knees, not in reverence, but in deathly exhaustion. The man laughed and it sounded like bells and music; Himthel winched at the sound, pain radiating in his skull.
“I must say, you did not age well,” the man remarked and drew nearer, feet ever off the decimated floor.
Himthel pulled what passed for a sneer, chapped lips breaking and bleeding, “Funny, I could say the same for you.”
The man smirked, “What brings you back to this place? Thought to die among the remains of your pathetic followers?” His silk draped arms reached wide as though embracing the destruction and decay, “Or were you hoping for recompense? I’m afraid your god no longer lives here.”
Fighting back unconsciousness with quickly dwindling strength, Himthel said, “I come with a message.”
Another tinkling laugh and the figure came forward till he hovered just before the prone old man, “And what message might that be? What have I to possibly fear from you or any other mortal?”
With fumbling hands Himthel drew something from his faded red cloak, holding it between them like a challenge. Slowly and with deliberate dramatization, he unfurled his fingers like the petals of a wilted flower. Against his steady, wrinkled palm, lay a medallion of gold and silver, split into fourths. Barely visible seams ran between each section, alluding to four pieces which created the whole, each side etched and carved with a specific deity.
In a voice that seemed to come from everywhere and no where all at once, Himthel said, “The war has only just begun.”
The earth shook and the shadows deepened, a heart stopping scream of pure fury rent the air. The tower erupted like a spout of flame, shooting hell fire hundreds of feet into the sky. The surrounding land was again awash in a wave of violent destruction, only this time there was nothing left to destroy. The pillar of flame burned for two days and the message was clear to those who knew how to listen.