Book of Lore – Chapter 6: Oh god, my hair’s not on fire!

High above the clouds atop the highest of mountains lies the diminutive Empire of Huoshan. Though this principality is small, it is nonetheless remarkable. Its residents have built their home over the gaping maw of an active volcano. As expected, it also takes a remarkable creature to live in such dangerous conditions. Half horse, half dragon, they are called Longmas, and they are incredibly unique in Fœnum. Though there are a few other magical races such as they, these cross-breeds are the only in the world who are part predator, and the only ones with wings. They are highly aware of their exceptional existence, and as a result are a very proud race. They believe they have purged from themselves the worst traits of their pure-blood ancestors, and embody only the best. Peaceful and robust like the ungulates, fearless and strong like the predators. Though their diets take after their herbivorous predecessors, their dragon roots are steeped in magic and history, nobility and chivalry, and theirs is one of the few true monarchies in Fœnum. Every subject of the Empire is a member of the military, sworn not only to protect their beloved Empress, their honored volcanic home, but all of Fœnum itself. As far as the Longma are concerned, no vile, flesh-eating, full-blooded predator will enter this world without having to answer to them.

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Plumes of hot smoke and steam puff out from a field of fissures, billowing into the sky in soft spirals. And, as ever in the Empire of Huoshan, a low, earthly rumble permeates the air. At the center of the caldera, a lake of lava bubbles and churns, and at the edge of its shore is an intricately sculpted spire of volcanic rock that stretches skyward. The Royal Palace.

At the base of its tall obsidian stairway, rows and rows of Huoshan soldiers stand at attention, formally adorned in golden armor. Each are various shades of green, their bodies covered in scales. Where their manes and tails should be, great waves of flames dance, but what impresses most are their fiery wings that send licks of orange up into the air, like scalding leaves in the wind.

And at the top of the shining black stairs, sitting on an ornate throne of red and gold, is the Daughter of Heaven, Her Royal Highness, Empress of the Miniscule yet Mighty Realm of Magnanimous Magma, Lava and Fire, Huoshan.

TianMjolnirShe abruptly turns her head and looks to a burning comet streaking across the sky. Closer and closer it approaches until it smashes into the apex of the stairs, engulfing the Empress and her throne in an inferno.

The flames dissipate and reveal Tianhuo, Most Noble and Virtuous Captain of the Guard. The Empress, who is completely unsinged, smiles at her champion with admiration. In a show of esteem and respect, the entire army stomps a single hoof, creating a cacophonous din that echoes through the caldera. After today’s ceremony, Tianhuo will be more than the most celebrated soldier of Huoshan, she will be named Imperial Key Keeper, destined to save all of Fœnum from an impending danger the Longma have not known for generations.

An orator steps forward to begin the ceremony. He speaks eloquently and formally, extolling the virtues of being Longma, and he goes on at great length how Tianhuo exemplifies those virtues more nobly than any other Longma save the Empress.

No one sees the tiny hint of flinch from Tianhuo as she endures the flowery adulation. She remembers, with shame, that this has not always been so….

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Hiding within a cluster of ashy cinder cones, a Longma foal stands and strains. She is quite small, and quite young, her long neck still smooth and flameless, her fiery wings not yet sprouted. She strains some more, “Come…. on…. fire… please…?”

POOF! A tiny flicker of hot light, no bigger than a candle’s, erupts from her forehead. She smiles wide, but just as quickly as it started, the flame goes out. She sighs.

“Ha ha ha!!! Look guys, she just had an eruption!” a cruel voice calls out.

The flameless foal is suddenly surrounded by three others, each as young as she. But unlike her, they have several sprigs of small flames sprouting from their necks and tails. And, also unlike her, they are big. She is mortified; she thought she was alone.

The trio laughs. “What’s the matter? Had to vent your gasses?” the long legged one with spots on his back says. “Get it? Gas?” The third one, who is stocky and has short snout, clarifies in case she doesn’t get it, “He says you farted out of your head. That’s so gross!”

From up above, another Longma youngster descends from the sky and lands squarely between the bullies and the foal, halting their advance. She is longer and leaner than the others, and perhaps a little older. But most notably, she already has her wings.

“You guys have nothing better to do than sling around immature insults?”

The foal breathes a sigh of relief.Tian

“I mean, eruptions? Gas? Farts? You can do much better than that.” She gives the foal a firm kick in the rear, knocking her over. “See? Much more effective, wouldn’t you agree?” The foal spits dirt from her mouth and tries to conceal a tear.

“Tianhuo!” the mean trio greets their leader.

“Now brothers,” she lectures, “remember, we are made up of two different kinds of creatures, and we much choose which of them we model ourselves after. Horses are prey,” she motions to the foal, “sniveling, pathetic, and weak. Dragons, though…” she marches before the others like a drill sergeant. “We are predators. Strong, fearless…” She leaps at the foal, “Merciless!”

POOF! A flame shoots out of the poor, terrified foal’s back end.

The bullies fall over laughing. It was only her tail igniting for a brief moment, but to them it certainly looked like something else. The foal runs away, humiliated.

Rather pleased with herself, Tianhuo takes to the air, her wings creating a cloud of swirling ash in her wake. She snickers with vicious satisfaction at the sound of her cronies coughing and laughing at the same time.

She soars through the sky over the great crater of Huoshan, performing a handful of complicated flips and barrel rolls just in case anyone is watching. Suddenly, from nowhere at all, an unnatural gust of wind hits her like a fist. She spins wildly, and, to her horror, all her fire goes out! With no wings, she falls down, down, down. Then, with an impact that blows the air from her lungs, all goes black.

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Tianhuo groans as her eyes flutter open. She struggles to stand, shaking herself awake. She’s in a tight crater she does not recognize. Tall walls of rock enclose her, a trap she can’t escape without wings. Then she hears a horrible growl, so deep and huge it rattles the ground.

She shakes herself to alertness. Before her is a monster. It is enormous and nebulous, as cloudy and vaporous as the volcanic gasses that escape Huoshan’s core. Though none have existed for thousands of years, the silhouette is unmistakable: a dragon! She circles Tianhuo, saliva sliding down her teeth, like blood from a sword.

“No, wait, please–” Tianhuo pleads.

“You beg mercy from a dragon,” the spirit laughs, “little prey?” Like a snake, she strikes at Tianhuo. Tianhuo closes her eyes and braces herself for death.

But nothing happens. Tianhuo opens her eyes. The dragon spirit is trading blows with an equally huge and misty horse spirit. A great stallion! Teeth snap! Hooves fly!

Try as she may, Tianhuo cannot tell who has the upper hand. The horse fights with strength and determination she would not expect from an animal that no one would fear but a blade of grass. Tianhuo cringes as the dragon’s claws dig into the horse’s flank. But, just as swiftly and suddenly, his hind hooves crack her jaw. She is stunned.

The stallion abandons the fray and stands over Tianhuo, a shield between her and the beast. The dragon, eyes burning with anger, cradles her jaw. She lets out an ear piercing roar and takes to the sky, allowing the stallion to win this round.

The stallion relaxes. He presses his muzzle to tiny Tianhuo’s. “You must forgive your Honored Mother, child. As you have witnessed, she is indeed, strong and fearless. And though she fights with a ferocity none can match, she can be cruel and heartless. She knows not the strength that comes from the herd, from protecting it. She knows not the power that comes from love.”

He walks several steps away from Tianhuo then turns to her once more, his misty mane swimming slowly through the air. “Her blood and mine flow through the chambers of your heart, my daughter. It is up to you to determine when to call upon hers, and when to call upon mine.” Then he takes his leave, galloping up an unseen incline into the sky. There, he joins the dragon spirit. The two encircle one another, flying faster and faster until they are but a symbol, remaining distinct from one another, yet existing as one.

Tianhuo wakes up. She feels a familiar heat on her neck, back and flank. Pausing, she wonders, was it a dream? Then, with her fire now returned to her, she flees the crater into the sky.

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Soaring above Huoshan, Tianhuo tries to steady herself and clear her garbled mind. The image of the spirits infinitely encircling each other lingers in her brain. What does it mean? But before she can make any sense of it, she sees, far below her, that her three cronies have the flameless foal cornered once again. In their eyes, Tianhuo sees the same merciless hunger she saw in the dragon spirit.

The memory of the fear she felt facing the dragon hits her with such power she falters momentarily in her flight. Ever since she could remember, she had always been the strongest, the bravest. She had never known what it was like to feel small and weak. It was the most horrible feeling she had ever felt.

The thought of what the tiny flameless foal must be feeling now causes a new emotion to overcome her, one she has never known before. Compassion. Quickly and without warning, Honored Father’s righteousness courses into her heart. But, to her surprise, it is Honored Mother’s anger that compels her to act!

Her wings fold against her ribs and she rockets towards the earth. She ignites completely, a blazing star shooting through the sky. She plows through the trio, sending them flying across the dirt. They are still for only a moment before they are up and fleeing, scared and really confused.

Her body cools. She approaches the nervous foal.

“Can you ever forgive me, honored little sister?” she pleads, lowering herself with a humbling bow.

The foal can only gape and offer painfully silent pause. Then, without a word, the foal touches her nose to Tianhuo’s; a gesture of forgiveness. Tianhuo, filled with relief and gratitude, smiles. The foal smiles back, and, POOF! …her mane, tail and a pair of tiny little wing buds ignite.

For certain, Tianhuo thinks, Honored Father is proud. And in her heart, she suspects Honored Mother is as well.

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Book of Lore – Chapter 5: There is no war in Baaaaah’s Sheep State

Sheeple, fleecy and white, were born and bred in the small city-state of The Meadow. They’ve taken up permanent residence there in settlements like the world famous township of Baaaaah, the charming village of Baaaaah, and the historic capital of Baaaaah. There the Sheep have built their own quaint, barn-like cottages as homes. It’s a very pleasant place to live with sunny blue skies, billowy clouds, and plentiful green grass – so much that the Sheep have not needed to migrate anywhere else for generations – and a good thing too, because they would probably get hopelessly lost and starve to death. You see, Sheeple are a democratic society. The Sheep follow the will of the masses, or the flock, if you will. Problem is all of the Sheep will vote in favor of the very first suggestion any Sheep happens to make. Yes, these ruminants will follow anyone who decides to lead – or whoever decides not to lead, which happens quite often.

Another interesting thing to note about Sheeple is that they live side-by-side with Sheep Dogs. You may be surprised by the notion of a predator not only existing in Fœnum, but actually living with prey. No one really knows how this came about. The popular theory is that the dogs are descended from friendly omega-wolves who were harmless enough to hide with the sheep while the rest of their kind were disappearing. Whether the sheep knew there were wolves in their midst is anyone’s guess. In any case, the wolves changed over generations, their predatory instincts evolving into protective ones. Now they serve the sheep as guardians, shielding the Sheep from harm… and their own vacuousness.

That’s the theory anyway. The Sheep cannot corroborate the story. Or understand it.

BookFight

“Order! Order! Order in the court!” the Prime Minister cries.

Court? Is this a trial?, Pom questions. I thought this was the Commons Chamber, where we’re supposed to come to vote.

She looks around the chamber hoping for more information. The room is large and round. The structure was built just a few generations ago when Sheeple first settled in The Meadow, so the wood shows only a little wear. The walls are stacked stone, white and gray, and the ceiling, thatched. Of course, these observations aren’t helpful, but Pom has never been at the Commons Chamber before, so it is at least interesting. Unfortunately, her fellow Sheeple are not so helpful, either. They only bleat in the general direction of their Prime Minister, and nothing about their demeanor offers her any reassurance.

I’m so confused. I shouldn’t’ve come. I don’t belong here. She is the youngest sheep in the room, tiny, with spindly legs and short, new baby fleece. A little lamb amongst stocky, round ewes and rams who resemble overweight clouds, especially the Prime Minister. Pom notes that his poofiness is the only thing more impressive than his spiraling horns. It must have been some time since he was sheered. She stifles a giggle speculating what sort of personal items he must lose in there on a regular basis.

PomWat“Now,” the Prime Minister announces to the room, “onto the first item on the agenda.” He speaks in a haughty tone, full of self-importance.

The bleating finally quiets. He slides his glasses up his long nose and reads from his notes lying on the podium. “’Regarding the feeding of the sheep dogs.’ Shall we vote?”

Oh yep, I was right, this is a vote. Still, Pom thought, why was he calling for order in the court when we’re in a chamber? I must be missing something. Oh, Pom, why are you so dumb?

This is the issue that brought her to the Commons Chamber. She has a small pack of four sheepdog pups who were given to her for protection, as all Sheep are given. In the short time she has had them, she has never seen them eat any of the grass that had been set out for them. She tried to feed them other types of food, like hay, leaves, and even flowers, and the dogs had no interest in anything that grew out of the ground. But somehow they thrived. She set out to find out why, and it led her to a fascinating discovery: the dogs hunt mice and rabbits, pests that would otherwise destroy their crops. All the green food left out for the dogs dries up or rots away. Green food that could otherwise go to needy sheep. This is the reason why she is here.

The Prime Minister continues, “Yes, you see, we’ve been feeding the dogs alfalfa, but the question’s been raised that perhaps we should instead feed them clover.”

“I already tri-“ Pom starts. All eyes shift to her. She shuts up.

I already tried that, she wants to shout, it won’t work! But she can’t muster the strength to say it out loud.

“Let us vote then, shall we? All in favour?”

The sheep all bleat, “BAAAAAAHHHH!!!!”

Being a sheep and having no gavel, the Prime Minister bangs his head on the podium to finalize the vote, BAM! “It’s decided then!” he declares.

What’s decided, then? I’m so confused!

The clerk, a ewe with a high, pinched voice asks, “So, is it clovah then, Prime Ministah?”

“Yes.” He pauses. “Er…. No. What were we voting for again?”

“Alfafa or clovah?” the clerk clarifies.

“For the dogs! Yes, of course. Thank you. Let’s put it to a vote, shall we? All in favour?”

“BAAAAAAHHHH!!!!” the herd votes affirmatively.

“It’s decided then!” BAM!

“Got it. Alfalfa.” the clerk confirms.

“Yes.” He pauses. Again. “Er…. No. Wait. Let us put it to a vote again, just to be sure…”

It takes the Prime Minister four hours to figure out how to phrase the question properly, and ultimately, clover is decided upon. And Pom never works up the nerve to speak the entire time.

EvenDogsAgreeBroccoliIsTerrible

Pom leaves the chamber confused as ever. Like a good herding animal, she follows the flock from the town square of Baaaaah out into the countryside and down dirt roads with wood fences that wind through the green, grassy landscape. Intermittently, they pass clusters of cottages with thatched roofs and vining flowers. Rolling, grassy hills are always present in the distance.

As they go, the flock disperses as the sheep come upon their own villages, and eventually, Pom finds herself in her family’s pasture, happy to greet her puppies, Woof, Ruff, Tuft and Puff.

Why did they waste so much time voting on something so pointless?, she sighed with frustration. She knew the sheep dogs will never eat clove and now those crops will go to waste.

You should’ve said something, you egg! Frustrated with herself, she resolves that the next time the sheep are about to make a poor decision, she will not question herself. She will speak!

Suddenly, a pup growls. Pom’s stomach flips. All four of the pups stare at a thicket on the edge of the clearing, their hackles up, teeth bared. Pom shivers, too paralyzed with fear to even look for somewhere to hide.

The puppies attack! They charge in, snarling and barking. She hears a frightened scream!

Pom screams, too, as out leaps Woogums, her older brother! She breathes a sigh of relief, and they embrace.

“Pom!” he says, enduring an attack on his legs by affectionate puppy tongues. He pulls a scroll from out of his wool, his voice urgent, “I’ve an important message from our cuzzies, the Warmbloods of the Kaimanawa Range. They say it’s a matter of life or death!”

“Life or death?” Again Pom’s stomach flips over, her knees knocking at the thought. “Well?” she pleaded, “what does it say?”

“Yeah, nah, I didn’t read it.”

“You didn’t read it? Why not?”

He pauses. Isn’t the answer obvious? “I can’t. Th-there hasn’t been a vote.”

Pom sighs. Back to the Commons Chamber it is.

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“Order! Order! Order in the court!” the Prime Minister cries, ramming his head repeatedly onto the podium. “We shall now put to a vote the next subject on the agenda,” he announces to the room.

“Shall we read the urgent, matter-of-life-and-death message from the Horses? All in favour?”

“BAAAAAAHHHH!!!!” the flock votes affirmatively.

“Excellent!” he affirms.

Pom holds her breath as he unrolls the scroll and reads aloud. The sheep listen, mouths agape, as the message informs of the impending return of the Predators, the threat to the entire world, the possibility of being eaten, and the need for a champion to keep it all from happening.

The sheep are stunned silent.

Then, PANIC! Pom can barely keep herself from fleeing while the flock races around the chamber, bouncing over and off one another, bleating chaotically.

“Order in the court I say!” the Prime Minister shouts, bashing his head onto the podium. BAM BAM BAM! The flock calms just enough to hear him call for the vote.

“Now, should we help the world of Fœnum and all the creatures in it? Should we find the champion of The Meadow? All in favour?”

Pom braces for the deafening BAAAHHH, but hears nothing. Nothing at all. All around her she sees the uncomfortable shifting, the eyes on the floor, and hears the low, noncommittal mumbles filling the air.

The cowards! Always they can be counted on to vote yes, but not now that the world needs them.

Then she remembers the promise she made to herself. She steadies her shaking knees, reaches deep down, finds all her strength and bleats loudly, “OF COURSE WE SHOULD!”

All-for-voting-Pom-as-champion?” the Prime Minister blurts out.

“BAAAAAAHHHH!!!!”

Wait, what?! The herd surges towards her and lifts her into the air!

“All hail the champion of The Meadow! Baaahh! Baaah!”

“Hold on, wait,” she stammers, “I-I didn’t mean it! I meant, nah, we shouldn’t help! I meant to say that’s a stink idea!”

The flock hears nothing. “She is so brave!” they cry. “She is so strong!” they exclaim. “Only the most mighty among us would state their own opinion!” Normally Pom would take note of how oddly direct these statements were, but she’s far too busy regretting speaking her mind and being utterly horror-struck by the task that lies ahead of her.

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Pom and her pups stand at the border of The Meadow, looking out into the gigantic, unknown, completely terrified world.

The instructions she was given swim inside her head. What is this key she is supposed to find? Who is this monster she is supposed to face? How did I get myself into this? Pom, that was dumb as! What were you thinking? The uncertainty of it all has her paralyzed with fear.

The puppies nudge her forward. No one knows for sure what goes on in the minds of the dogs, but perhaps they know that this one is not as stupid as she thinks she is. And if they can keep her standing, she might just surprise everyone.

DogChase

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Everybodypicnic

Book of Lore – Chapter 4: The Strange One

The Fœnum world traveler is aware of the impressive level of technology its hooved inhabitants possess. Across the world, ungulates are able to build structures, irrigate water, and even create crude vehicles. But there are still societies who live lives of bygone eras, who have not changed since a time not long after ungulates learned to control fire. One of these societies is the Alpake of the Huacaya Moutains. The Alpake, or Alpacas as they are known more commonly, live as their ancestors have for thousands of years in the harsh, arid conditions of the Huacaya Mountain Range, which spans across the entire territory of The High Plains. They are wandering nomads; they go where the growing grass bids them. Always on the move, Alpacas must pack light and be ready to climb the next unforgiving mountain to find food. So their ways of living are simple. They utilize only what the High Plains is willing to offer them, whether it’s tall grasses to weave baskets, gourds to carry water, or clay and minerals to create paint and dye. They even use their own exceptionally soft wool to make their blankets and tents. They are resourceful, rugged, sober and serious. They exist to survive. Whatever the obstacle, they put their heads down and press on, just as their ancestors have for hundreds of years.

 

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My name is Adobo. I come from what you and your tribe call The High Plains. You call us Alpaca, an endearing, if slightly insulting alteration of our true name, The Alpake of Huacaya. My people have survived the harsh environment of the High Plains for many generations. So many generations that we have lost count, but still we honor our ancestors’ ability to do what is hardest in The High Plains: survive.

The land, she does not love us. She is cold. So cold she freezes the soil so very few green things grow and we have little to eat. She screams wind at us constantly, her breath forceful and frigid. She tricks us, sometimes giving us small puddles of lakes to drink from, but other times providing us only water heavy with salt, mocking our thirst. So joyless is she, she rarely shares colors other than brown or gray.

But she is, at least, consistent. And only the most stalwart and rugged of our ancestors could endure her abuse, ensuring that we, their children, would be able carry on. Our ancestors were strong, and so we are strong. Our ancestors were resilient, and so we are resilient. Our ancestors were prudent and sober, and so we are prudent and sober.

But one of us is different. She is not so hardened, not so rugged – but soft, hopeful and vigorous, never seeking strategies for survival, but always seeking to fill the world with the love the land has never had for us.

Her name is Paprika. And she’s going to kill us all.Pacabounce

Once, the land around our village had grown barren and our watering hole had dried to nothingness. We packed our belongings onto our sturdy backs and set out to settle elsewhere. The cliffs of the Huacaya Mountians were sheer, and to ensure the safety of all, we tethered ourselves to one another so that if one of us should lose their footing, those climbing above them could keep them from falling to their deaths. But the strange one, she needed no tether. She flew up the side of the mountain despite the enormous amount of frivolous personal items she loaded onto herself. To our horror, she paused at each Alpake, stared deeply into their eyes and delivered them a crushing embrace! One by one we fell, until only I was left, struggling at the top, holding onto the rope that held my entire tribe dangling above demise. Paprika spared me – and all of us – with a peck on the cheek and a deathly giggle before skipping away humming a terrifyingly catchy tune. It was a miracle any of us survived.

Another time, high winds had damaged our tents severely. A sand storm was approaching, and we were desperate to repair the gashes in our shelters. Like many times before, we had to sacrifice our own fleece to weave patches before the wind could assault us with its stinging grit. Time was of the essence, so our precious fur would have to be trusted with the fastest weaver among us. Paprika. We closed our eyes tight against the sand that was already starting to pelt us. The strands of our fleece left our bodies in long, twisted threads, as if we ourselves were balls of yarn, making their way to the furiously weaving hooves of the strange one. When we finally found ourselves furless and naked, we looked over to our savior to behold the sheets of woven wool that would be our salvation, only to find that she had chosen to knit us all sweaters. “I heart Paprika” sweaters. It was a miracle any of us survived that day.

And then there was the flood. We would have been washed away were it not for a fallen tree that was only just big enough for all of our small tribe to cling to. We had to cling together, grasping and holding onto one another to stay afloat. Including the strange one. I had never seen her so happy. It was a miracle any of us survived.

Paprika was a natural disaster our ancestors did not prepare us for. The Alpake had finally met that which they could not survive. And so, we resigned ourselves to extinction, lying down to accept the eventual embrace of death that came with her embraces. Her bone crushing embraces.

Then one day, fate offered a welcome distraction from our despair. The morning light illuminated his silhouette – a hero returning from some unknown war.

“My son!” I cried as he appeared over the crest of the plateau. “I feared I would never see you again!”

“Father,” he said, “I have news from the city.”

He told us of the imminent return of the Predators and Fœnum’s need for a single champion.

“The leaders in the city are holding a competition in the capitol,” he explained, “they believe the champion should be from their nation. And father,” he put his hoof on my shoulder, “they consider the High Plains as part of that nation.”

The urgency of his words changed our hearts. We could no longer be resigned to extinction! We would break our seclusion from the outside world and go to the city. We would do our part to answer the call for a champion. It was our only hope for survival!

We set out to cross the mountains. We tied up the strange one and heaved her onto our backs so she could not endanger us on this most perilous journey. We crossed the vast, never ending salt flats. We braved hissing geysers of scalding mud. We climbed mountains so high we had to gasp for air.

Then, finally: civilization. My son guided us to an immense arena, the place where The High Plain’s chosen one would compete and earn their right to save the world.

This was our defining moment. This is when the Alpake of Huacaya would ensure the survival of our race. It was time to make our ancestors proud.

We dumped her on the steps of the arena and made a break for it.

It will be a miracle if the Predators survive.

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Book of Lore – Chapter 3: The Pact

Deep in the shady forests of The Woodland resides the Order of the Horn. A reclusive, mystic clan, they consist entirely of pure white beasts that are at once like horses, deer and goats; with cloven hooves, lions’ tails and a single, spiraling horn stretching from their foreheads. Unicorns. They are an ancient race, stoic and disciplined, their culture mired in ritual and tradition, and they spend their days studying the sacred power their lives revolve around: the divine Magic of Light. Through the generations, they have used light magic to shape the trees into structures, spiraling to the sky in graceful, wooden columns, with branches twisted into delicate woven patterns. The most beautiful of these structures is their primary temple, The Sacred Grove. There, they keep to themselves, hidden under the canopy of their home, with no interest outside their rituals and study – including the other beasts of Fœnum, and the fate of Fœnum itself.

ThePact

13 Turns of Seasons before the Incursion of the Predators

Slivers of morning light stream through the cracks between the entwined vines and branches that make her bed chamber walls. She breathes lightly beneath her soft, loosely woven blanket, the only part of her left uncovered is the long, curved horn that gives her kind their name:  Unicorn.

Oleanderasleep

She stirs as more light illuminates the thicket-like space revealing the whiteness of the birch bark. A cloven hoof and slender leg, thick with fur at the fetlock, slips out from under the covers and rests on the floor. The young one makes her way across the room, her lion’s tail swaying groggily, to a table that seems to have grown from the ground. Atop it is a large white bowl. She bows her head to sip the cool water, catching her reflection.

She gasps!

 

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The morning ritual has already begun. Every unicorn in The Woodland has made their way to their most hallowed temple, The Sacred Grove. A great circle of ancient trees, pale and smooth as ivory, reach to the sky then bend towards each other, twisting and weaving their branches into one another to create the walls and ceiling. They drip with vines sprouting opalescent flowers, softly showering the congregation with floating petals that glisten as they drift through columns of morning light. Several dozen pure white unicorns stand in rows before an alabaster plinth where a line of robed elders stand stoically, staring out to the herd, their long, silky beards almost touching the floor. And at the alter stands the High Priestess of the Order of the Horn, draped in gossamer, orchids woven through her mane and tail, her horn spiraling higher than any others.

She preaches, her voice solemn and deep, “A thousand years now the divine Magic of Light has kept us safe and hidden, leaving us free to study Its mysteries, decipher Its plans. Our gratitude we must show for what Light chooses to protect and preserve, and dutiful acceptance we must offer for what Light decides to let wither and fade…”

As she goes on, the young one timidly slips through the back entrance, hoping and praying the others keep their backs turned away from her. In stark contrast to everyone there, her fur, her mane, her tail, her horn – are all DARK.

The Priestess continues, “…for it is not our place to question – GASP!” It is too late. The priestess has seen her. The young one winces as every head in the temple turns to her.OleanderStand

“GASP!” the herd utters in unison.

“Oleander!” The priestess called out, “Your appearance is an affront to the Magic of Light! You dare appear in this holy place in such a state? Explain yourself!”

“I-I don’t know what happened! I…” the young one stammers, “…just woke up like this.”

“Well, I know,” the priestess accuses, “for one thing only can mar the purity of Light.”

“It’s not what you think…”

“DARK MAGIC!” The priestess’ voice booms across the grove.

“GASP!” goes the crowd.

“Alright. It’s a little what you think…”

“GASP!” the crowd goes again.

“Oleander, against the laws of the Order you have spoken out many times.”

Oleander’s courage suddenly appears, “Well I wouldn’t have to if the laws of the Order weren’t all ancient and short sighted! We believe only Light is good because that’s all we’ve ever been told. But I believe there is more good in the world than just Light. We should not be afraid of The Dark!”

“GAAASP!!!!!!!” goes the crowd, the biggest one yet.

“We,” the priestess interrupts, “have shown you patience because of your lineage and…” she pauses to swallow disappointment, “because of the potential we saw in you. You have shamed us.”

Oleander protests, “But –“

“GASP!” the crowd goes again.

“Seriously?”

“Oleander!” the priestess bellows, “Great granddaughter of the Divine Oracle Amaryllis! You have channeled that which is forbidden and broken the laws of the Order of the Horn! You stand in judgment!”

Oleander struggles to keep her legs from going out from under her as she awaits her sentence.

“Now,” the priestess finishes, her speech grave and low, her eyes piercing her with implication, “go to your room and think about what you’ve done.” And with that, she slams her hoof upon the stone plinth, passing her final verdict.

The bearded ones terminate their sanctimonious stares and, to Oleander’s horror, turn their backs on her. The entire herd follows suit, row by row, tail by tail.

Shocked, disgraced, Oleander lowers her head and leaves the temple in shame.

Divider

Sad and slow, Oleander returns to her chamber. From under her bed she pulls a book – a large, glowing, red book with the twisted skull of a horned creature straddling the binding. Despite its unsettling appearance, she considers it with sadness and regret, as if she were looking into the eyes of a dying pet.

Carrying the book in her mouth, she approaches the fireplace, igniting the fire with a glowing pulse of magic from her horn.

But before she can toss the book into the flames, it burns hottest red! She drops it with a sharp yelp. The book lands with a hollow thud, its pages thrown open.

Then, a voice from inside the pages booms, “Art thou so eager to be rid of me, Oleander of The Woodlands?!”

Oleander stumbles back, her lips burning. “You! You turned me dark! You exposed me! Now I’ll be shunned.”

“’Twas thou who soughteth the likes of me. Does thou claimeth not to have known the risks of doing such?”

“Oh, cut it out, Fred.” Oleander tosses the book up onto the table, taking care not to shut the pages. “That voice stopped being funny months ago.”

He roars, “Of what voice does thou speaketh? This art totally my normal voice!” He adds, “And stopeth calling me Fred, my name is FHTNG!”

Oleander shoots him a look, “Whatever. Fred.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll stop.” his voice lowers to a comfortable, if slightly nebbish, alto. “Look, I’m super sorry about the whole turning-your-fur-dark thing. I forgot to tell you that once you read a certain number of passages in the Book of Undying Misery it leaves some sort of mark. My bad. Totally my bad.”

“Give me one reason why I should keep you around?”

“Because we’re friends?” The book squirms, and in its weird way, smiles sheepishly.

Oleander gives him the side eye. Not so forgiving.

“And because…” he changes his strategy, “you’re going to save the world.”

Oleander’s eyes almost pop out of her head. That got her attention.

He elaborates. “Alright, so you know how the High Priestess told you all those stories when you were a filly, all those stories about the Predators?”

“You mean the fairy tales? About the beasts who,” she swallowed hard, “ate everyone?”

“Yeah, yeah that’s the one. Here’s the thing. They’re comin’ back. In 13 turns of the seasons. You’ll be all grown up then.”

Oleander’s eyes darted back and forth, her mind reeling, “But the Order will never let me. They will say The Magic of Light will decide the fate of Fœnum. They won’t interfere.”

“They won’t. WE will,” the voice from the book says, suddenly serious. “All you gotta do is honor your pact. Stick with me. Study the spells of the Unicornomicon. That’s what it will take.”

Oleander’s takes in what she knows must be the truth. She has been right, and The Order has been wrong. And now the fate of everyone in Fœnum, not just the Unicorns of The Woodlands, is in her hooves. She cannot fail!

OleanderpactShe looks to the book, eyes steely with resolve. He flips the pages to a specific passage and, without a moment’s hesitation, she stamps her hoof on the corner.

Black smoke rises from the pages, crawling up her leg like misty, slithering snakes. Her eyes glow red. Her hair comes alive, whipping upwards in a burst of black sorcery.

Then, all is calm. The pact is final.

“Well, alrighty then!” The book exclaims jubilantly. “Done and done.”

Oleander stumbles to her bed, exhausted.

“You rest up now, pal. We got 13 years of work ahead of us. You and me, me and you.”

The pages pinch in a strange sort of crinkled smile, “This is going to be fun.”

 

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Paprikapaca

Book of Lore – Chapter 2: The Tundra Tournament

 

Hailing from icy nation of The Tundra, the Deerfolk of Rein live in a rather privileged society, and an unusual one at that. For generations, the robust yet graceful animals have been revered and pampered by magical, elf-like creatures called Ice Sprites. Now, Ice Sprites are extremely strange in the world of Fœnum, being the only sentient creatures who walk on two legs, and no one really knows where they come from. But one thing everyone knows for certain is that they have an odd, obsessive fascination with reindeer —and the deerfolk are only too happy to indulge them.

With their magic, the sprites provide the deer with more than just food and shelter. They’ve built them a quaint yet stately city with some of the more sophisticated structures in Fœnum, buildings far more than mere practical protection from the harsh elements of The Tundra, charmingly decorated with warm, folksy iconography. In fact, for the Fœnum world traveler, The Tundra’s capital city of Rein is considered one of the most beautiful places to visit. And even more importantly, the food the sprites provide – golden oats – imbue the deer with their own magic, making them able to leap so high and far it seems they can fly, and giving them the ability to control aspects of the wintery weather of their homeland.

The sprites treat the deer like pets without actually owning them, and the deer treat the sprites like servants, except without actually ever bossing them around. It’s a very extraordinary symbiotic relationship, but it’s a win-win: the sprites are happy and entertained, and the deer live a life of privilege and luxury.

BookOfLore

The snow falls lightly down onto the scalloped shingled roofs of the city of Rein, capitol of The Tundra. The thick, dark wood of the buildings and the colorful folk art painted around the doors and windows are only that much more lovely with the clean, white snow piling on and around them. The cobblestone streets trampled with the prints of dainty cloven hooves add to the feeling that this is a land of fairy tales.

VelvethoofiesAnd here are some now. Well, not fairies, but Ice Sprites. Word that the world of Fœnum needs a savior has reached The Tundra, and these small, mysterious creatures with large eyes and pointy ears are bringing forth their own chosen ones with all sorts of fanfare. And the chosen ones are kind of loving it.

The most robust and powerful of all the reindeer in The Tundra are here to compete, the ones with the largest antlers, the thickest neck fur, the sharpest hooves, and the biggest egos, for each is convinced that it is they who will win the tournament that decides who will save the world.

Uttering a soft, squeaky language no one understands but them, the sprites parade their favorite “thoroughbreds” through the city, making their way to the stadium. Each deer is adorned with beads and baubles, finely woven wool capes, or have their great antlers painted silver and gold.

But one deer is the most flamboyant of them all. Accompanied by a legion of worshipful sprites, she arrives in a coach painted silver. The length of her immense satin train, blue and covered in icy jewels, falls not just behind her, but over the back of the carriage, sweeping the snow on the ground behind her.

“What is Velvet doing here?” many of the other deer inquire, rather snarkily. Despite her ostentatiousness, Velvet does not look as robust as the other competitors. She is lithe and delicate – hardly the makings of a warrior. But there is one thing she clearly has more of than her competitors, (which, it should be said, they have in droves), and that is confidence.

The competition begins, the first being feats of strength.

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First, the deer must see who can pull a sleigh filled with the most logs. The strongest of them pull nearly 60 logs nearly 60 feet!

When Velvet’s turn comes up, she prances daintily to be harnessed. She pulls once against the harness. “Enh,” she exerts primly. Too heavy. She insists a log is removed. “Enh.” No good. One by one the logs are removed until there is only one left. That’ll do!

Lifting her knees high, she prances proudly around the arena pulling her almost-empty cart. Her sprites jump and cheer!  Her competitors’ jaws drop with indignation.

All the strength competitions go similarly. When they have to push a block of ice across a frozen pond, Velvet merely nudges it with her nose and takes a grand bow. When they all have an enormous stone rune strapped to their backs and are sent to run across a field as fast as they can, Velvet takes quick, tiny baby steps and makes the judges wait half an hour for her to cross the line.

Still, she finishes by smiling at her offended competitors who can only wonder how someone could be so proud of failing so miserably.

Then the next leg of the competition begins. Hoof-to-hoof combat. Muscle bound bucks throw each other to and fro with their massive antlers. Sturdy does tear at each other with their cloven hooves. Some of the deer have an extra advantage. They’ve learned a trick or two from their magical caretakers and can conjure up elements of the ice and snow to use against their opponents, flinging small icicles at them, or freezing the ground to make their opponents slip. But as the competition rages on, it is clear that only the strongest of the deer will claim the title of Key Keeper, and most bets are on a tall, intimidating chestnut buck. He is well known for being part of an elite team of eight chosen by the elves for a mysterious yearly ritual where they pull a red sleigh through the sky for just one night in deepest winter. It’s weird, but it’s an honor. The strongest of this team is Blitzen – also known as “The Blitz.”

And now The Blitz is about to face his final opponent.

And she is taking her sweet time. Motionless except for an occasional ear or tail flick, Velvet stands as several elves poof up her luxurious neck fluff, shine her antlers, and brush her coat to a satiny finish.

“Come on! This is a fight, not a beauty pageant!” Blitz calls impatiently across the stage as an elf polishes his back hoof. “You call that shine?” he hisses at the sprite under his breath.

As Blitz makes his way to the center of the stage, head and hooves high, smiling at his fans and jealous adversaries, Velvet still lingers. Her elves feed her from a large bucket filled with oats – but no ordinary oats. These glisten and sparkle like they were made of pure gold. And for just a moment, her antlers seem to, as well…

Blitz rolls his eyes as she prances and dances over to him at the center of the ring, blowing kisses to the completely silent spectators. He lets out a scoff of disrespect at the skinny doe, then steels his eyes, staring her down.

She yawns.

Then the bell! Blitz comes out swinging, tossing his antlers with his mighty neck! Velvet gracefully- and easily – dodges each one.

Blitz continues his advance, kicking and bucking, but Velvet stays clear out his way, putting on a show for the audience as she does.

“It’s that all you do, princess? Run away?” Blitz taunts.

“Bored are you? How about zis…”

velvlorepost3Velvet’s antlers suddenly gleam and glitter like crystalized ice.

She lifts her front legs above her and pirouettes, spinning over and over with impressive speed.

“Come on woman! Stop dancing and fi- ” but before Blitz can finish, a massive, magical spinning column of snow and ice erupts from the ground and gobbles him up!

The column pulls him back over to Velvet, who finishes her pirouette with a spectacular pose – one so fabulous, it breaks the ice column, revealing Blitz, a frozen statue.

She smacks him – one two! Kicks him forward and, as her horns glitter with sprite magic, attacks him with ice projectiles over and over and over, until finally…

He is down!

“Aye! I chipped a hoof,” she laments.

The spectators go wild – with enthusiasm or jealous rage is anyone’s guess, but either way is perfectly pleasing to Velvet.

Her league of sprites rush over to her like a pit crew and start fussing over her hair and fur and hooves, only slightly worse for the wear. They escort her to her silver carriage, placing her silk robes over her shoulders like a champion boxer.

As they pull her out of the arena to begin her quest as Rein’s Key Keeper, she blows kisses to the crowd.

“Güdbye my loves! I’m off to save ze vorld for you! Don’t be jealous now! Try to schpruce ze place up a bit before I get back. I’m talking to you, Vixen. By-eeeeeee”

Blitz finally regains consciousness. When his eyes regain their focus all he sees is the back of her procession. His eyes follow her long train from the ground up to her head. She turns, looks back at him and winks.

He’s in love.

bookofloreFOOT

bookofloreFOOT

Book of Lore – Chapter 1: The future belongs to the young.

Under a cornflower blue sky, filled with billowing white clouds, an enormous herd of cattle gather across an expanse of tall brown-green grass.  Their noses point to the center of the herd, focused intently.  Their homes, dozens of dusty covered wagons, surround the group. Mumbles of concern and curiosity mix with long, drawn out moos.

Their attention is fixed on a simple, newly constructed stage, the wood still pale and clean. A massive brown bull stands atop it before his herd. His horns are impressively long, sprouting horizontally from his head, their black tips curved forward just at the ends. He wears a heavy, wooden yoke to signify his station. He is the Head Bull, TEXAS. Beside him is a strong, blue-eyed cow, her short coarse coat patched white and tan, his wife, MINNESOTA.

“Gather ‘round friends, I’ve got news from outside our beloved home, The Prairie,” he calls out to the throng of bovines.  “We’ve all heard the tall tale of old, the story of The Horned Prophet, the little lady who locked away our old enemies long ago, keeping us safe to roam the country, looking for sweet grass and golden sunsets just at Mother Fœnum intended for her calves. Welp, I’ll tell you now, the tale, it was true. And the story, well, a new chapter is startin’. “

Texas’ eyes, narrow with gravity

“The Predators, they’re a-fixin’ to come back.”

The crowd shifts, voices raised with concern.

Minnesota tries to calm them, the last thing they need is a stampede.  “Now don’t get your tails in a knot, folks. There’s something we can do about it, don’tcha know.”

“Yup,” Texas continues, “the varmints ain’t here yet, and with the Prophet’s key, the lock can be mended. We can still lock ‘em back up in The Hold.  But it will take someone with strong moral fiber, someone rough, tough, and bull-headed to boot. So naturally, that means one of us – Cattlekind.”

Texas looks out to his people, some with faces twisted with concern, others with determination, others still, with anger.

“Are there any volunteers?”

The cattle rush the stage, moo-ing with purpose!

“That’s right,” Minnesota calls out and motions to a old rain barrel at the end of the stage, “just put’cher name there in the barrel, we’ll be pickin’ lottery style, don’tcha know.”

One by one, each Bovine presses their nose in a dish full of mud and slams it onto a piece of torn cloth, stamping it with their unique, individual prints. They fill the barrel to overflowing with their “names.”

“Spread the word to our brethren across The Prairie,” Texas informs them.

“Yah. We’ll be drawin’ the noseprint of the champion tomorrow mornin’.” Minnesota finishes.

For the rest of the day, bulls and cows from across the nation migrate to the main Wagon Train to throw their nose prints into the barrel. But it is not until late at night that the final name is added.

The entire herd sleeps as, under the dim light of a half moon, a small calf stealthily approaches the empty stage. As if doing something forbidden, the young one looks around carefully, makes the print and adds it to the barrel before quickly dashing away.

AriLazyBrush2

The next day, just after the sun rises, the herd reconvenes, eager to find out who among them will be chosen to save the land.

“Friends,” Texas announces, “get ready to meet your champion!”

Minnesota shoves her whole head into the barrel and emerges with the fateful name. Texas inspects it closely, then gasps in horror!

“No! It can’t be!”

Minnesota, unable to speak with the print in her mouth, questions her husband with darting, concerned eyes.

“Our youngest daughter…” he cries out, “ARIZONA!”

The crowd gasps! Minnesota gasps! The noseprint falls from her lips to the ground before the hooves of…

The young calf!  She bravely stands the before the herd, determined to claim her title!  She is small, her horns only just budding, but she is sturdy and sure!

“Young lady,” Texas scolds, his voice a combination of fear and indignation, “what were you thinking! I won’t allow it!”

“Sorry Pa,” Arizona yells right back, unintimidated, “but it’s my right! I am Cattlekind, too, and I love The Prairie as much as anybody else.”

Minnesota steps in to reason with her husband, “It’s the law of The Prairie, don’tcha know.  Her name was drawn, it really is her right.”

Texas and Arizona face off, nose to nose, overprotective father against rebellious daughter.

“She is too young!” he proclaims.

“The future belongs to the young! Let a young one protect it!” she defies.

“Then it is my right, as Head Bull, to take your place!”

“Not unless I defeat you first, Pa.”

AriLore

“Very well, calf. But remember, you mess with the bull…” Texas paws the ground and lowers his immense horns.  Minnesota rolls her eyes as he booms:  “YOU GET THE HORNS!”

“Hoo boy,” Minnesota says to herself, shaking her head, “here we go…”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Arizona rushes her dad.

He is prepared, though.  He lowers his head and throws her high into the air.

She flips nose over tail through the air and lands square on her feet, the force of her landing rocking the bull off balance.

“Don’t go easy on me, old timer!”

Texas is surprised! Not just by her sass, but by her strength. He narrows his eyes, resolved to give her his all.

He rears up and brings his massive hooves down on her, but she is fast. She rolls and weaves between the furious stomps, unencumbered by the deafening booms of his hooves on the ground.

Finally, he pins her by the tail. “Ha! Don’t mess with Texas!”

Minnesota face-hooves. Unbelievable.

The calf kicks him in the face! Stunned, he stammers back, releasing her tail.

They position themselves for a final face off, staring each other down. Texas lets out a mighty bellow and catapults himself towards his daughter! The entire herd is shaken by the thundering of his hooves.

Arizona waits a moment, then coils. She  lowers her head, raises her hoof, then POUNDS the dirt, rocketing herself towards the raging bull like a battering ram!  AriLore3

The impact throws him into the air!  But before he lands, Arizona banks off the side of the stage, twists her hind legs before her and lands a mighty buck square into his chest!

The herd watches, mouths agape as their powerful leader is launched into the air spinning uncontrollably, before falling with a cacophonous, booming THUD!

And when the dust clears, the bovines see their champion.  Arizona stands above – no, on – her fallen father, a vision of youthful independence and strength.

“No use crying over spilt milk!” she crows triumphantly.

Minnesota winces. “Oh geez, c’mon…”

The cattle cheer, “MOOOO! Yee haw! Wee dogie!”

Minnesota looks on, filled with pride. “Well done, little calf.” She says softly to herself, “Yah, you bet’cha.”

Texas gets up and watches as Arizona is swarmed by the crowd, cheering for their champion.

“Moooo!  Our champ-een!” they hoot and holler, “This calls for a hoe down! Git along little cowgirl!  Moooo!”

With a smug, knowing expression, Minnesota sidles up by Texas. He looks on angry, humbled.  With her great weight, she nudges him with her shoulder, knocking him off balance, if only slightly.

He gives her a side eye before looking out at his little girl, carried high on the backs of her happy brethren.  His face softens and a proud smile crosses his lips as Minnesota puts her head on his shoulder.

With a hint of a tear in his mighty, brown eye, he opens his mouth to speak.

Minnesota braces herself for the worst…

“The future belongs to the young.” He says, quietly expressing his approval.

Minnesota breathes a sigh of relief.  That wasn’t so bad.

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cyoa

Edit: Poll Closed. Velvet’s backstory is up next!

For the next chapter of the Book of Lore, we’d like to do something special. We’re letting you guys pick which character’s past we’ll delve into next. The poll in here will remain open until the crowdfund reaches 265k funded, and the backstory for the character that you guys pick will be published soon after. Then we’ll repeat the poll for the remaining characters, whose stories will be appearing for every additional 15k afterwards. So if you have a favourite whose story you can’t wait to hear, vote now and tell all your friends to vote too!

Whose Background story would you like to see next?

  • Velvet (30%, 589 Votes)
  • Oleander (29%, 561 Votes)
  • Paprika (18%, 345 Votes)
  • Pom (12%, 238 Votes)
  • Tianhuo (11%, 213 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,945

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The Book of Lore: Prologue

Life had been peaceful in the world of Fœnum. The inhabitants of this world – furry, four-footed, hooved – had thrived for generations, creating culture, building societies. They lived happily, with sweet, grassy pastures at their disposal and great, expansive fields to gallop across. They were free.

But it has not always been so. Long ago, they shared their world with others, also furry and four-footed, but these creatures had teeth. Sharp teeth. They were Predators, and they filled the ungulates of Fœnum with fear.

BearPredator

No one knows exactly just when or how the predators disappeared, but the most famous legend says that a great elder, long of leg, long of horn, and long of beard, had finally grown weary of living in fear. A desert creature, this Bearded Prophet hailed from the time of pharaohs and pyramids, and most importantly, magic.

Guided by the souls of her ancestors, she discovered a portal her predecessors used as a passageway to the afterlife. It led to a void, a limbo-like antechamber – a lobby, if you will – with countless other portals that led to other worlds.

She floated in the abyss, behind her was the door to Fœnum itself, and before her was an empty realm she called the THE HOLD. This place, she knew, was where the Predators belonged.

Under her wise guidance, the nations of Fœnum united against the Predators. After a long and costly war, they drove the toothed ones through Limbo and into The Hold. There, the Prophet locked them away, using an ENCHANTED KEY she made from one of her own magnificent horns. For good measure, she locked the door to Foenum as well so that no one should enter their world uninvited and ensuring peace for Fœnum forever.

But nothing lasts forever. They are coming back. All of them. The wolves, the lions, the hyenas, the crocodiles, the bears, the jaguars and many, many more.

Ghostlike figures, dark and misty, were glimpsed just outside the limits of cities or towns. Sometimes they even floated through encampments, or followed not far behind the nomadic herds. Their glowing, angry eyes hinted at what they were, but it was the sharp, shining teeth that told all.

Eventually one spoke, “Do not fear us, grass eater,” it said to a terrified foal, alone at the edge of a prairie. “We are merely scouts here to warn you. The Bearded Prophet’s magic is finally wearing thin. We have broken her lock, and soon enough we will break your lock so our kind may return to Fœnum, led by the most horrible of us all, THE DEVOURER. The Predators are returning, and they are hungry.”

WolfPredatorThe Elders conferred for the first time in generations. They knew that with the Prophet’s Key, they could renew the magic and strengthen the locks. But they knew it would take only the the bravest, the strongest, the most skilled among them to get past The Devourer to even reach the door to The Hold. They had to find a champion, THE KEY KEEPER!

Without the Prophet’s guidance, the nations of Fœnum could not find it in themselves to come together to choose one Key Keeper. Instead, every nation – Bison from The Plains, Goats from The Mountains, Antelopes from The Valleys, Equines from The Steppes, Camels from The Deserts, Deer from The Forests and countless others – chose their own champion to face The Devourer and save the world.

But it is only the one with the Key who will be able to reach Limbo through Fœnum’s portal.

So these champions must hunt down the key for themselves. To fulfill their duty, they must take the key from whichever “imposter” happens to have it – one on one, horn against hoof against antler, until the greatest emerges Champion of them all, Protector of Fœnum! He or she shall face the The Devourer and lock him and his kind back to the realm of their banishment.

And if he or she does not, all the ungulates of Fœnum shall surely perish.

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