There is no history of the Sheaim as a people before the Age of Rebirth. As the Age of Ice ended, they were a people from all civilizations gathered toward one purpose: ending creation through the fell magic of Armageddon spells. Most pursue this focus to increase their arcane knowledge, some believe they will receive an eternal reward for destroying creation, while a few just want the world to end.
The Sheaim are master summoners able to contact other dimensions. The wizards, sorcerers, warlocks and clerics of this corrupted empire will stop at nothing in their quest for ultimate power over Arcanearth. The holy city of the Ashen Veil lies within Sheaim borders. Far-flung cells of Veil Cultists work ceaselessly to undermine both allied and enemy empires from within.
The bulk of their armies are based on two staples: cadres of trans-planar beings summoned from other dimensions, and hordes of undead. The most feared of these is the ‘pyre zombie’, a typical zombie imbued with explosive fire magic. When destroyed, the zombie erupts into a pyre of flame searing everything within 20 paces, including other pyre zombies. Chain reactions of these explosions can wipe out defenders and set the countryside ablaze. For this reason the pyre zombies are used as suicidal shock troops ahead of the main Sheaim army.
Two rulers share power in the Sheaim empire: Tebryn Arbandi and Os-Gabella. Tebryn was once a powerful Archmage and Lich who was cast into hell after death. Ceridwen released him from her endless Vault on the condition that he dedicate his new existence to the destruction of creation. Os-Gabella was the first woman created by the gods, and the intended bride of Nemed, the original Angel of Life who sacrificed his immortality to become the first man in creation. She was created as and remains an immortal, but rebelled against Nemed and the god’s plans for her. Now she is trapped in creation until the end of time. Both Tebryn and Os-Gabella seek to escape their prison by destroying the world.
15% Trans-planar (various)
8% Cambion (various mix)
2% Orc, Half-Orc, and other Goblinoid
1% Dark Elf (Svartalfar)
~ 1% Other
60% Neutral Evil
25% Lawful Evil
14% Chaotic Evil
~ 1% Other
Adult population Lvl 1 or higher: 6%
Sorcerer: 25% (all Bloodlines except Divine)
Warlock: 18% (all Pacts except Divine)
Paladin: 1% (Eidolons, Oath-breakers)
Other: < 1%
A cacaphony of screams echoed through the black cobblestone streets of Galveholm. There was no way to predict their frequency. Often hours of pregnant silence would pass between hearing them. But when they did occur, it was impossible to deny their tortured anguish. Those of sensitive disposition would shut the sounds out as best they could and whisper a quiet prayer for the victim. The evil spawn of other dimensions that roamed the city, and their brethren from the mortal realm, were attracted to these symphonies of torture like flies to rotting meat.
Gaulos had a way with women, he prided himself on it. There were few things he couldn’t get through guile or smile. Perhaps they wouldn’t agree to his most intimate desires, but they would join him alone in a dark cellar, and that was all the cooperation he required.
He found young girls the most vulnerable. In naively agreeing to his meetings, being unable to resist his forced advances once alone, and the most satisfying to his desires. Even so young they were still women and susceptible to his charms.
But he was too eager, a village ripe with beautiful young girls nearly stopped his heart when his caravan rolled into it. They chased each other outside a small temple and cared for delicate dolls. After three went missing the village was on the verge of hysteria, the caravan was torn apart and he was accused of the murders. They had no evidence, but that isn’t required in such situations so Gaulos escaped somewhere they wouldn’t follow: into the Sheaim lands.
Now he stood in a pack of the lowest dregs of humanity outside of the Sheaim gates. Immigrants had to display some skill before they were allowed into the city, and since the gatekeeper was male, Gaulos didn’t have anything to show. They had already begun to pull some aside to tend to the pyres, and no one returned from that.
On his third day at the gate a stir rose from inside the city. The guards, to that point cruel and inattentive, went suddenly alert and the gatekeeper ordered everyone away from the gate. Bestial men that had been pissing and shitting off the wall and onto the huddled immigrants below became paragons of duty.
Gaulos and the mass of lesser men waited quietly. Nothing scared the Sheaim, but many began to back away from the gate. Then Gaulos saw the source of their fear: a black carriage pulled by horses with burning hooves and eyes like glowing coals. As the carriage drew near, he could see that the horses had sharp wolf-like teeth accustomed to tearing flesh. They glared at the scattered refugees like beasts inspecting their next meal.
A mobius witch drove the carriage. The creature’s form was twisted and sunken like leather hide stretched tight over misshapen stone, as if it wasn’t able to fully enter this world. Inside the carriage was Os-Gabella, Queen of Storms. She showed little interest in what was happening at the gate. Despite the carriage’s solid construction, the windows were open and its royal passenger apparently unprotected.
The carriage stopped at the gate where Os-Gabella posed a few quiet questions to the gatekeeper before preparing to head into the city. Knowing that it may be his last chance to use his gift, Gaulos stepped up onto the road beside the carriage.
“My Queen, please allow me entrance to your magnificent city.”
She eyed her new passenger dispassionately. The gatekeeper looked horrified and shocked by Gaulos’ behavior. If Os-Gabella’s neck stretched to bite off his head, no one at the gate would have been surprised. Now committed, Gaulos continued on.
“The legend of your beauty brought me to these lands, across barren wastes and dangerous roads. But now I see that those who spoke of you were lying, for you are twice as beautiful as they described.”
Again there was nothing but shocked silence. Then finally Os-Gabella replied, “Get in.”
Stunned, no one knew what to do. Os-Gabella kicked open the carriage door and this jolted the gatekeeper into action. He held the door while Gaulos climbed in.
The carriage thundered through Galveholm while both nobles and peasants scrambled out of the way. They looked at Os-Gabella and Gaulos with fear and wonder. This was a life Gaulos could get used to.
He took his eyes off the street and saw the Queen was regarding him. He met her gaze, dipping his head enough to let his boyish bangs obscure the eyes women always complimented him for. He looked back up and smiled, but her expression didn’t change.
Feeling a bit uncomfortable Gaulos asked, “Where are we going?”
“To meet your father.”
The tattered edges of the mobius witch’s robes reached through the window of the carriage and brushed up against Gaulos’s neck. The touch made him shiver even in the oppressive heat of the day. Gaulos’ father was a dockworker in the Lanun city of Bolans. He hadn’t talked to him in years and couldn’t imagine a less likely destination for the carriage.
The Sheaim palace was ahead and the gates were raised as the carriage approached. They stopped in a courtyard where a band of cambions argued with even stranger creatures. Os-Gabella stepped out of the carriage without pretense or ceremony. Gaulos followed, more from fear of being left alone with the odd monsters in the courtyard than any desire to stay with the Queen. As they entered the palace he could hear screaming slaves being dragged over and fed to the dark horses.
Inside the palace a minotaur opened a great vault of steel and adamantium. Behind the door stairs led deep beneath the palace. Gaulos briefly considered fleeing, but a glance at the minotaur sent him scrambling down the stairs behind Os-Gabella.
The palace construction gave way to natural caverns. The stairs gave way to a rough stone floor with worn spots where Os-Gabella stepped without thinking. Jewels in her armor radiated a pale light and provided the only illumination in the passage. Gaulos struggled to stay within the radius of her light.
The passage ended at a small chamber with a stone arch in the center. Os-Gabella stepped up to the arch and traced runes in the air before it. Then she stepped into the arch and the chamber went completely dark.
Gaulos scrambled forward. He remembered those girls he seduced into joining him in dark cellars, at that point where his eyesight was better in the dark than theirs and he could sit back and watch them fumble about. He imagined that all the girls he had tortured to death were watching him, enjoying these last few moments before Os-Gabella killed him. The though made him panic and fall through the archway.
Sudden brightness blinded him. In the center of a brightly lit chamber of polished black marble a man hung over a firepit, bound by heavy silver chains. The man was gaunt and looked strained beyond exhaustion, but he was oddly uninjured. Os-Gabella walked over to the man, withdrew a purple crystal from her armor and held it over the pit.
Gaulos picked himself up and walked over behind her. The chained man looked up in surprise and yelled.
“Run child, run!”
Gaulos froze. The man’s words held power but when Gaulos looked back at the arch there was only darkness and the imagined ghosts of his victims beyond it. There was no other place to run. Instead Gaulos spoke to Os-Gabella.
“That’s not my father.”
Os-Gabella smirked, “Of course it is, the first father. Nemed, my erstwhile husband.” She said the last words with cutting disdain. “We are here to find a way to kill him.”
With that, purple flames burst up out of the pit.
“These fires are said to be able to burn the astral body. I wonder what effect it will have on immortal flesh.”
Os-Gabella raised her hand and Nemed was dropped into the pit. His screams echoed through the chamber. Gaulos turned to run, his fear of ghosts overcome by the horror before him. But Os-Gabella was faster and possessed of an immense strength. She grabbed him by the collar and dragged him to the pit.
“I need to know the effect on mortal flesh as well.”
Gaulos reached within the folds of his shirt, for the knife he always kept there. With one smooth movement he thrust it up into Os-Gabella’s throat.
Os-Gabella laughed, “If you could kill me we wouldn’t need these damn tests!”
Gaulos withdrew the knife and stabbed again, only to notice that the wound healed as soon as the knife was withdrawn. Then Os-Gabella shoved him down into the pit with the screaming Nemed. The flames quickly rushed up his legs and onto his chest and head. His screams joined with those of Nemed.
Gaulos awoke in a grey wasteland of swirling ash. His skin was burnt and blistered, his boyish hair was burnt off. Every movement was torture. He knew he was dead. It was an uncomfortable afterlife, but bearable. Until Gaulos saw the spirits of the murdered girls coming for him.
The Age of Ice was a paradise compared to what I endured. As men huddled in frozen caves and the Bannor raced across the plains of ash in the Vault of Agares, I was held underneath the fractured surface of the Vault of Camulos.
Camulos is the god of war and his hell is the proving ground for new fiends. Here they learn to master the art of battle in the unending wars that rage across hell. The souls, once mortal, become desensitized to receiving and inflicting pain. Then they begin to delight in it.
Beneath the wars, in pits regularly opened or consumed by the violent earthquakes that shake the world, are the vast prisons where the victims of war are kept. I had suffered through the mire of Mulcarn, passed the trials of Mammon’s great city, but I was quickly victimized by the violence of this realm.
Torturers usually want something from their victims, secrets, cooperation or conversion. But here they subjected us to anguish only to enjoy our suffering. And in a world without the escape of death, there was no hope of an end to the torment. You bleed and scream for centuries.
The eruptions occasionally open new tunnels in the prisons. Collapsing walls allow the imprisoned to flee to the world’s surface and escape their torment for a time.
After one such incident I was able to flee into wastes where the sand cut through exposed flesh like small shards of glass. I huddled beneath the hide of a pit beast, gripping a bone spike from the demon’s skeleton as a crude weapon. My magic failed me in hell. I traced a rune in the sand, a fire sign with broken bindings and willed it alive. A faint flame flickered within it. When I was alive I could have summoned torrents of fire from the rune, I could have assaulted
a city with it. Now it only flickered weakly.
Howls interrupted my concentration. Demons avoided battles in the wastes, but hunters led by hellhounds would pass through looking for those who, like myself, sought to escape their punishment. I brushed away the rune and started deeper into the wastes.
But the horrid hounds smelled me out. They didn’t follow scent like mortal dogs. They could smell fear and there was no escaping them. As I scrambled across another ridge a darkened figure rushed at me, spear in hand. He was emaciated, weak, and I easily knocked the spear aside.
I pulled the man to the ground. He was trembling. I whispered a lie into his ear.
“You will be okay.”
“I won’t hurt you, but we have to kill the hound that is coming for us.”
He didn’t speak, but his eyes stared into my face, trying to find some hint of compassion. A rare commodity in this world.
“Hide under the ridge,” I ordered, pushing him into position. “When the hound comes be ready with your spear and we will attack it together.”
He hid under the ridge and I slipped away. A minute later the hound stopped howling. It was close.
The hound was drawn to the stranger’s fear as I had hoped. I watched as it walked up to the top of the ridge where it stopped to sniff and listen. Even I could sense the man’s fear. I knew it was like a beacon to the hound. In one smooth motion the hound leapt off the ridge to face him. He called for my help as he braced his spear.
I ignored him as the hound attacked.. I wasn’t interested in the hound or the man. I waited until I saw a black figure wreathed in violet flames, the hunter following after the hound. As it passed I leapt out, shoving the spike into the hunter’s neck.
The sound he made was a mix of pleasure and pain, the scream of a sadist in the ecstasy of mutilation. The devil was stronger than I suspected and the spike jutting from its neck failed to slow it. It lifted one arm and tossed me aside. I rolled and came to my feet to see the demon about to attack. The hound dragged the body of the man back towards us as the rest of the hellhound pack emerged from the wastes. There numbered at least a dozen. The hunter didn’t bother removing the spike from his neck.
A crow passed over us. Seeing it in hell was as unusual as seeing a demon fly overhead in Arcanearth. But the effect on the hunter and his hounds was immediate. They fled in all directions, abandoning the body of their victim.
The crow landed. It was large for a crow but not unnaturally so. It clawed at the ground and hopped about, ignoring me. I had lost the spike and without any sort of weapon I knew I was helpless. Remembering the man’s spear I started to slip by, to avoid the crow and get to base of the ridge where the hellhound and the man had fought.
Then I noticed what the crow had scratched. It was a fire rune with broken bindings. The crow looked at me for the first time.
It was exactly like the rune I had made, perfectly formed. I walked closer and the crow watched me. I took a breath and reached out to the rune and immediately felt the power well up inside of me. Balefire flooded out of the rune in great wild gouts. It flowed out between the hills of the wastes, down along the ridge and all around me. At the rune itself it reached up like a fountain of yellow fire, a bright finger reaching into the sky.
This was the power I once had. Let the hunters come, let them bring their packs of hellhounds, the torturers and the war machines of hell. I will purge this horrific world.
The crow was gone. In its place, floating weightless just above the ground was a beautiful woman wearing purple robes. The robes floated in a maze of folds that hid her form and offered tantalizing glimpses of her perfect pale skin. Half of an obsidian mask covered the left side of her face. On the right her lips were full and red, her eyes matched the deep purple of her robes.
“Too long have you dwelled in these lands.”
The fire collapsed back into the rune. As the power slipped away I gasped and fell to my knees in an effort to maintain my grip upon it. But it was pulled from me. I was weak again. It was as cruel as anything I had suffered here.
“Give it back,” I threatened, before remembering I didn’t have a weapon.
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. Her body twisted and she expanded, or the world shrank, until she filled the sky and her robes surrounded me.
“I am Ceridwen,” she said. The ground rumbled with her voice. "I can drop youinto worlds far worse than this one. If you wish to be free, you will worship me, for I am the only one who can break your chains.”
And I fell to the ground and worshipped her.
I had forgotten how beautiful creation was, or rather I had paid little attention. The island I walked across was green and lush. There were no land animals inhabiting the paradise, only brightly colored birds that cried and fluttered away in annoyance as I passed.
A lagoon of midnight blue occupied the center of the ring-shaped island. Far enough across that a galleon could have disappeared into it. The rocks around it appeared to be weathered granite, but I knew that rock was the foundation of creation and much stronger than simple granite. There were no animals here.
I began walking around the well. Every few feet I stopped to trace a rune on the rock. Though it seemed a minor effect, and I was more powerful than I had ever been in life, it took all of my willpower to mar the rock. Between runes I rested and reviewed Ceridwen’s commands, making sure each step was executed exactly as she described.
By the time I had walked the entire circumference it was well into night. I stood at the last rock ready to trace the final rune. But before that I drew silver letters on a black cloth, cast and then placed the cloth over my eyes. Through it I saw the spirit world. Even now spirits of the dead walked across the island and threw themselves into the well, passing from this world to the world beyond. Then I completed the final rune. In a screeching that brought back painful memories of the Vault of Camulos, the rock began to move together. The well began to close.
Confused spirits rushed toward the well, sensing their afterlife being stolen. From within the well I heard the sound of feathers. A cold wind came up out of the well. I saw a figure flying up at me from the well’s depths. A woman with a cloth over her eyes, much as mine, and ragged bands woven around her arms and into a tattered dress. She had dark wings and pale ivory skin, like moonlight filtered through a canopy of branches.
But she was not fast enough. I reached out and pulled all of the surrounding spirits towards me, funneling them into the final rune that was being sketched over the surface of the closing rock. A barrier held fast, a great mirror that would send back those who tried to pass, a transformation that would bind these spirits into unholy forms.
The spirits powered the rune. They were trapped within it. They howled and fought the rune, but they could not escape.
To test the spell I walked to a nearby apple tree, its fruit untouched since the birds didn’t come this close. This early in the year there were only tiny green apples hanging from its branches.
I traced a rune of withering on its trunk and the tree immediately shriveled and died. The tiny apples fell as the branches thinned and weakened. For a moment nothing happened. Then the tree filled out again. Not to its original height, as it remained dark and warped by the spell, but it was not completely dead. Black blossoms appeared, quickly swelling into deep brownish red fruits that pulsed slowly.
The mission commanded by Ceridwen had begun: to bring Armageddon upon creation. Failure means a return to the eternal prison of hell. Success means a place of power and honor in the new creation of Agares, Ceridwen, Camulos, Mammon, Aeron, Esus and Mulcarn. Even if it means destroying the world, I will never again suffer hell’s torments.
Abashi the Black Dragon
Only four days. Four days without sleep. Four days of constant battle. I would have laid down and died for the chance to just rest for a few minutes, but there was no rest here. Every defeated soldier was raised as a new soldier in the undead hordes of our enemy. Within minutes of a corpse hitting the cursed ground their arms were twitching again with unholy life. Then they would rise and we, who had fought and bled beside them as brothers, would be forced to kill them again.
We had come through the Aduro Straight, where angels and demons battled across the sky in blazing aerial combat. We had thought the worst was past when we made it through to the calm Meditor Sea. Our fleet of white sails and cheering men, an army of many nations, landed as one on the far shores. Was that really only four short days ago? How soon I would wish for those restful days of voyage, fond memories compared to this land.
The paladins are our inspiration. They fight tirelessly, never questioning, fighting for every inch of ground as if it was any different than the cracked earth we just came from. Even now Vaghan stands surrounded, his armor gleaming even on this moonless night. The power of the Empyrean flows through him.
An ash-bearer cultist comes at me, using his sword to thrust rather than slash. If he was to dismember me, I would be weaker when raised as an undead. I parry the clumsy attack, but he sacrifices himself to push me back. I stumble into Vaghan and realize this was the ash bearer’s real intent, to use me as a distraction, to make him vulnerable if only for a second.
I fall out of the way, trying to keep from interfering with Vaghan’s fight even if I am sacrificed in doing so. Another ash bearer comes quickly upon me, but is stopped when Vaghan steps over me and cuts her down. I have a brief glimpse of those Vaghan was dueling: a wraith of shimmering darkness and a zombie juggernaught cobbled together from a dozen sewn corpses. The paladin is crushed to the ground. Vaghan raises up up one hand. There is a flash and a ring of blinding light explodes outward. The wraith is destroyed. The juggernaught reels backwards to be hacked apart by our men.
Vaghan grabs me and pulls me to my feet, “Do not despair, hope yet remains.”
Without warning Vaghan is snatched up into the darkness. Only a brief blast of wind indicates that anything passed through the night, until it turns back towards the army. A gigantic dragon of sleek black scales is silhouetted briefly against the sky, darker even than the night, like a hole in sackcloth. The dragon spits out Vaghan’s remains. Then she roars. I find myself suddenly nostalgic for the days of constant battle.