The Alignment was the background to Summerfest 2010.
An IC version of the events related by Sir Robin Adair is attached below.
It has been a little while since the Alignment, and as much for my own sake as for anyone else I would like to set pen to paper and write down the tale, starting at the beginning, and finishing at the end.
Much of this is from ancient stories, and so the details are dim and clouded by time. Much else I have gathered from other people, and so I may be mistaken or misunderstand. But the heart of the story is there, clear to be seen.
Many years ago, a being known as Azalaz found a way to devour the souls of other beings. Doing so made him stronger, and he gained the wisdom, powers and strength of those he devoured. As he grew stronger he became able to challenge stronger and stronger beings, until at last he was so mighty he thought to challenge the very Gods themselves.
The Gods sought to defeat Azalaz, but under the Pact that governs their actions on Arda they could not do so directly. So they granted certain powers to the mighty among mortals, that they could become the Exemplars of their vocations, and by being of such great prowess they might challenge Azalaz and destroy him. They were the Warrior, the Healer, the Wizard, the Hunter, the Smith, the Scholar, and the Bard.
The Exemplars gathered and fought Azalaz, but although they fought mightily they did not keep to their true ways. The Healer, for example, became so set on the destruction of Azalaz that she forgot the preservation of her fellows. And so by this failing of the Exemplars, although Azalaz was driven back he was not destroyed.
Time went on, and Azalaz recovered his strength and made a fresh challenge to the Gods. The old Exemplars were no more, but the essence of their strength still existed in the world while Azalaz lived. This strength came to new Exemplars, who again fought Azalaz, and again failed to press the fight to the finish. Such battles happened many times.
In one battle, for example, the Bard let a great army against the host of Azalaz. He led the army, but the fight was led by three others, whom he named the Crown, the army’s commander; the Shield, the protector; and the Sword, the brand of shining steel that smote the enemy. The Bard loved his Sword with all his heart, but when she fell facing Azalaz he hardened that heart, and ignoring his loss he pressed home his attack. In so doing he failed as Bard and became no better than his enemy, for Azalaz is the one who uses all other beings as tools and cares not for them as people, whereas the true leader loves his followers more than himself and feels every cut, every wound, and every death. And so the spirit of Azalaz survived that battle too.
In another tale, perhaps a thousand years ago there was in Axir a general called Aria, the Legate of a Legion. Now her legion was such a fine instrument of war that was favoured by the Gods themselves, and called Invictus, the Unconquerable legion. Now Aria loved a Battlemage of Axir called Malus, though as their duties as General and Battlemage kept them from ever marrying. Some in the Senate of the time grew jealous of this love between Aria and Malus, and feared their combined strength should they ever defy Axirian custom and actually marry. And so Malus was sent off with the legions to Oluthen, to fight a great evil that had arisen there. Aria was abroad at the time and not told until too late, and when she realised that Malus had been sent to his doom she did indeed defy the Senate and followed, with her Legion Invictus. Try as she might, though, she could not catch up with Malus until he faced the Beast which was Azalaz the Devourer, and she saw him defeated and his soul consumed by Azalaz.
Stricken with grief, Aria swore on her eagle standard, the Aquila that is the heart and soul of the Legion, that she would not rest until she had recovered her love’s soul. To ensure that she could not recant that oath, she consigned the Aquila to rest in Ixaxar, the graveyard of Sharda, where even demons fear to tread. And so in her loss and sorrow she became the Ashen Queen; and her troops, bound to her by undying loyalty, became the Ashen Legion, the grey wraiths – an unconquerable legion sworn to defeat the invincible Azalaz, and doomed forever to fail.
And so Azalaz was driven back, and the Ashen legion slept, until the Dark Six Gods were released and returned to Elysium, and began to war on the Gods of Light. Last year there was the Communion, at which the representatives of the Gods met and ended the war, which had begun to tear apart the very planes themselves. The damage done to the planes was so great that the Ashen Queen realised that there was a way in which she could end her grief. Instead of saving her love, she could doom all of creation by making the planes move even further. By abusing and manipulating the forces of magic in Arda, she could move the planes to allow the Primordials, unthinkably ancient creatures from the dawn of time, to awaken. This would result in all three planes being destroyed, and if all the planes and all of creation were destroyed, then she would at last have peace – though it be the peace of the empty grave.
Azalaz too had awoken, and his Varga-hai were sweeping across the world. Azalaz realised that if the planes came together he would have an easy route to Elysium and the Gods, and he could again challenge them.
And so we came to the Alignment, the merging of the planes, with two enormously dangerous foes to face – Aria, who sought to unleash the Primordials and destroy the world, and Azalaz, who sought to consume the souls of the gods. And also the Tenebraeus, who seek to undermine all that is good and holy, and the Septanicle, their pawns.
To stop Aria, first she had to be released from her oath. A small group of adventurers undertook a mystic journey within Azalaz himself and found the soul of Malus, which was then bound in a gem. Another group went to Ixaxar and recovered the Aquila from its pit of corruption and filth, by an exemplary soldier. Then the Church of Kharach, with the Black Knights and the Griffins and a host of other brave adventurers, journeyed to the Utterdark to stop Aria. I was not there, but I understand that on being reunited with her lost Malus, and her lost Aquila, she gave up her vengeance and departed in peace.
Which left only the Primordials to be defeated. And although I understand that only a few had awoken, and were still dazed and sleepy, I am told it was an epic battle.
For months before the Alignment the spirit of the Exemplars had been calling to some adventurers, who had started walking the paths that would lead them to be imbued with the power of the Exemplars to defeat Azalaz – if only they could stay true to those paths. The ancient tales were rediscovered, and those who walked the path of the Scholar found the secrets of what needed to be done. In short, Azalaz could not be defeated while he was able to change his form – as the Many-Headed Beast of legend, any attack on him would fail as he changed to a new shape. And so the Exemplars (Artemis the Scholar, Sir Jaime the Warrior, M the Smith, West the Hunter, Kythara the Healer and Doviennya the Wizard) had first to create a perfect form for him, and by means of arcane lore I do not understand they had to bind him into that one form. Once in that form he became vulnerable, but only to those with the strength to wound him.
And so, with Azalaz vulnerable, but stronger than ever, a force went to Elysium to stop him. I was the Bard, and I chose myself a Sword, Shield and Crown to lead the fight. I chose Sir Jaime Lannister as the Crown, Sir Anthony Drakenfist as the Sword, and Mother Eliza Day as the Shield, and all proved themselves more than worthy of that trust. With a strong force of Templars, with Grey Knights and Roses, with the Guilds and the Churches, with humans and dwarves, elves and halflings, we followed Lady Fearnley the Paragon of Longstor to the gates of Elysium.
And there, you stood as a cliff stands against the stormy waves, as hordes of Varga-hai dashed themselves upon your steel. Many times they came, and although the line reeled under the onslaught you always came back and smote the foe to ruin. Until at last Azalaz came, and with him the mightiest of his folk. The very ground shook beneath his feet as he came, and this last assault swept all before it. I stood in the centre of the field, and as my army was shattered and Azalaz approached the very Gates themselves, I realised that only one thing mattered. Azalaz must be defeated, and all else must be sacrificed in order to press the fight. It broke my heart to say it, but I gave the order to fall back to the gates, face Azalaz, and abandon the wounded – for even though it beggar a man body and soul, what price is too high so long as the Gods survive? With the remnants of the faithful defending them as savage hordes swirled around, Sir Jaime the Warrior and Sir Anthony the Sword faced Azalaz and destroyed him, once and for all.
And then there was peace, and the wounded could be helped.
And, thank the Seven, only a few were lost. And of those, only one was as a result of my order to fall back – Mother Sense Harris of the Rose Order, who fell in the front line leading a group of Knights and Roses. A small price to pay for victory, perhaps, but a debt I will always owe.
So that was the Alignment. A mighty foe defeated, an ancient evil restored to its slumber, and a legion of grieving souls at peace. And a community of adventurers, without whom none of that could have happened.