Although change is inevitable, no one expected changes of the magnitude experienced during the Age of Cataclysms. This story is told about one of the veterans of the Age of War, who returned home to help rebuild it, only to see everything else collapse.
Every day, they considered themselves fortunate. Although Rivervale and the Misty Thicket had been overrun by the Hordes of the Inferno during the Age of War, the occupation was a relatively short one. Rebuilding commenced before the last mound of dead orcs and goblins had finished smoldering. The Runnyeye goblins, what was left of them anyway, were sent sniveling back to their caverns. The halflings looked forward to an age of peace.
Of course, peace and war are relative terms. There were still skirmishes to be fought now and then. Folks locked their doors and windows at night, when they hadn’t done so in the past. The Leatherfoot Brigade was slowly rebuilding its ranks, too. Veterans returned home from the War of Defiance that had nearly swallowed Qeynos and Freeport, bringing with them tales that darkened the nights and made the comforts of home all the more enticing.
Gemma Pathfinder’s shoulder still caused her intense pain when the weather was out of the east. She didn’t like to join in the tales told about the first few days when the Horde swept through Rivervale. She’d been so sure they would kill her, but for some reason they’d left her unconscious on the street and continued on their way. Gemma was one of the lucky survivors, although she reflected, it was again a relative sort of luck.
Lately, her shoulder had been bothering her more and more. She moved slower than she had in the days of her youth during the War. Still, she was thankful for living long enough to see the orcs killed or driven away. She was in her beloved Rivervale to help direct its reconstruction. When the townsfolk talked about building a shrine to the dead, she pointed out that rebuilding Rivervale was the best shrine they could create. And it was.
Walking through the Misty Thicket, Gemma thanked Bristlebane yet again for her good fortune. She stood on a small hill ringed with woods pausing to catch her breath. Rubbing her aching shoulder, Gemma looked slowly about the woods. “That’s odd,” she thought, puzzled. “Why aren’t the birds singing in the trees?” A thrill of fear chased up her spine. Were they under attack again?
Still puzzled, Gemma noticed the treetops swaying back and forth. First the motion was subtle; she only noticed it because she was looking for the silent birds. Then the trees began to sway in earnest. There was a loud, ear-splitting *BOOM* and the ground shook violently. On the hill, Gemma was tossed to the ground. She could see the earth roiling beneath its green coverlet of grass like waves on a pond.
The ground shook hard for so long that Gemma thought Norrath would shake until it broke completely apart. Trees whipping back and forth started snapping like twigs. Suddenly, Gemma felt the hill upon which she lay sprawled lifting and grinding back and forth. A large hunk of turf slipped down the rising hillside taking Gemma with it, sliding down like frosting that’s been put on a cake before it cools.
Gemma’s eyes were wide with fear, but she knew she had to keep her wits about her to save herself from any dangers from the shifting lands. As the shaking subsided, she cautiously stood up to take stock. The earth was ripped and torn in many places leaving jagged brown scars across the green grass. Many of the tallest trees, some that survived the fires set by the orcs and goblins those long years past, had splintered apart.
“That was some earthquake,” Gemma said, brushing bits of dirt and grass from her clothes. She walked cautiously back toward Rivervale, finding new escarpments and paths covered by fallen trees. Even on the best of days, Gemma’s walk was slowed by her years, but now she was navigating unfamiliar terrain entirely. It was home and not home at the same time. And for the next several days, the lands shook and screamed in agony.
An unusually thick fog hung in the air for many days after the initial earthquake. When the tremors slowed, Gemma and some of the other folk wanted to see the extent of the damage. The fog had not lifted. Standing on the edge of a newly formed cliff, Gemma gasped. Rivervale and the Misty Thicket stood within a grey fog ring and where trees once marched away toward the horizon, a furiously bubbling sea frothed instead.