The fear he had borne those many, many long year, since the end of the Age of Combine, had come to pass: The disapperance of the gods, Yes, for hundreds of years now that had been known as the Lost Age, and of course that name was given by those who knew little to nothing of events during that time.
Of course, few – perhaps none – had lived a life as long and eventfu as this ancient elf called Aataltaal. Now, it seems, he’d outlasted even the gods.
The elf looked up into the bright night sky and watched Luclin’s continuing disintergration. A flaming meteor, no doubt a portion of the sphere of the Maiden of Shadows, soared fast and low just to the south of him. Lightning traced the rock’s path through the swirling clouds, and Aataltaal was certain he felt the wind and heat generated by the meteor.
The destruction of Luclin, named for the goddess who was for countless years beyond the reach of mortals, was a metaphor for the fate of all created races… as well as for the gods themselves. Even if they were not dead, the gods who birthed the races of Norrath and had guided the events of millennia, including the seemingly wanton destruction of all they had so assiduously crafted, were beyond any mortal’s reach. The immortals might as well be dead for all they could do on behalf of those who relied upon them, those who worshipped them. Likewise, there was little to be done by one such as Aataltaal, who sough to slay gods, or at least some – partculary one! – among their number.
As he sat on the Luclin-blasted landscape of the Thundering Steppes, with no other living entity around for league upon league, Aataltaal gave himself over wholly to these reflections. And soon his vision returned.
In the long past age of Combine, Aataltaal had foreseen the fall of that great empire. He tried toward emperor katta, but neither of them understood the meaning of the vision fully enough. Of course, Aataltaal considered that failure to be his own: It was his magic that had crafted the visions, his knowledge that should have deciphered them, and even his plans that had set the fracturing of the Combine into motion. Granted, the plans of those against whom he toiled, General Seru and his fell sorcereress, were a considerable part of the events that brought the empire to its knees.
Ages had passed since then, and yet another was dawning in this time of the broken moon, and still Aataltaal toiled. He had victories to relish and humbling defeats to rue, and still his nemesis Opal Darkbriar dogged him. She thought to have won the day in Freeport, but he had meant the promise he made to the humans there after he saw them safely westward across the Ocean of Tears. That city, like his battle against the gods, might seem lost at present, but the Wheel of Time always rolled round again. The trick was stopping the wheel when it was properly poised for one’s purpose.
Of Course, managing one’s own fate in this way was something that had proved beyond the capability of even the gods (at least as far as Aataltaal knew), but it was an end the elf yet dreamed possible.
He had to believe those dreams. So much else that he had foreseen had come to pass. The citadel floating over the city of freeport. The confiscation of the Books of Knowledge. The shattering of Luclin, and the consequent loss of those first mortals of the Combine Empire who fled there with Katta’s lifeless-yet-living body. The death of Seru he had also foreseen, though one had to take that death on faith since there was no body to be seen. Some things were not as yet entirely clear. Indeed now was a time of great flux. The winners and losers of this age could not yet be clearly foretold – if in the everyday life of Norrath, or the Shattered Lands formerly known as Norrath, things could be judged in such simple terms. The two great cities that survived at this moment in time evidently considered themselves winners, and perhaps righty so.
Qeynos and Freeport, once standing at opposite ends of his beloved Tunaria, more recently called Antonica. As they had once stood geographically, so too did they stand at opposite ends of the spectrum of light and dark – a spectrum of finite morality Aataltaal himself straddled completly, that he was in fact beyond in a way that the earth itself or the constellations were beyond.
The same oracular power that had once led Emperor Katta to seek Aataltaal’s advice in the Lost Age now suggested that the one who might finally bring the Wheel of Time to a safe halt would pass through the land in which he now stood. So the wizened elf sat here, a ragged journal in his hands. It was an ancient tome, and to any lesser mage it would have seemed a great prize. But it had been Aataltaal’s for centuries now, and his own notes were now recorded within. To him it was not an artifact, it was merely a possession.
Ah, but what it led to! – that was an artifact: Tarton’s Wheel.
Long ago Tarton constructed his Wheel so that he might travel the planes. The elves of Takish-Hiz had been the first to make such a journey, having labored for over a century to find the means to enter Innoruuk’s Plane of Hate. Spells for such travel eventually became commonplace among those wizard capable of channeling sufficient mana, but Tarton wanted more, something that might take him beyond the realms where the gods dwelt in semi-real forms that could be defeated but never seemed to die.
Tarton wanted access the the heart of the of the universe itself, where the essences of the gods could be confronted and destroyed altogether. And so, of course, did Aataltaal.
It was unclear even to Aataltaal wheter or not Tarton had actually managed to use his creation for its ultimate purpose. He thought not, for surely there would have been tremendous repercussions for a mortal undertaking such a journey, yet such consequences might well have occured with no mortal being the wiser, for few knew the events or stakes at issue and none could say how, precisely, the effects might be felt.
This kind of shadow-war Aataltaal had now waged for millennia. At nearly every turn he was foiled or brought short, but often the forces thrown against him created ripples in the world at large. He had managed to assemble the ten spokes of Tarton’s Wheel, but then the ripples of causality began to spread. Perhaps his estimation of his importance or the danger he or his quest posed to the gods – at least to Innoruuk – was inflated, but it seemed likely that all of the divinities must fear his success. Perhaps the roadblocks set before him were concidental, but he thought not.
Regardless, it was no coincidence, surely, that very laws and fabric of the universe were altered as soon as Aataltaal possessed and assembled all the pieces of the Wheel. The global destruction had begun to subside the moment he disassembled the artifact and spread the pieces once again.
He wished he believed in happenstance, for then he would not be haunted by the ghosts of the countless thousands who perished in the catastrophes that had rocked Norrath. Now he had that blood on his hands, just as he was haunted by specter of the Combine Empire and the restless souls of those elves transformed by the Prince of Hate when the rescue of their sovereigns went away.
So it was that here, in the lifeless waste of the Thundering Steppes, Aataltaal drafted the final portion of this journal. The writings concerned the first piece of Tarton’s Wheel, called Azia. Once he had finished, he would place the journal in the magically locked chest, which he would then send secretly to the docks of the Steppes. There, only an individual with one of two proper keys – a pair of inconspious emerald Aataltaal would sell, one each, to vendors within the two sities of the former Tunaria – could recover the journal.
With the journal in hand, an individual might begin his own cycle through time, If Aataltaal’s perceptions of his visions were accurate this time, then the one destined to find his journal might just sneak beneath the notice of the gods, and use the Wheel succesfully without arousing the kind of wholesale destruction Aataltaal himself had caused.
And that’s why it seemed so reasonable to leave a riddle regarding the ancient city called Wielle for last, because Freeport was where change needed to begin.