After, there was little left to do but survive. The peoples dwindled down to few and fewer, huddled in their caves and places of safety, until finally they emerged, settling in the fertile land that remained in small, tight knit communities. Hamlets became villages and villages changed to towns; towns needed governing and those with skills and knowledge stepped forward. Dangers surrounded them – storms, harsh winters, wolves, petty jealousy – but they persevered, building a new life for themselves and their children.

But the fallout changed all, the people, the animals, and the land. The first to be born were the monsters of myth and legend that came from the depths of the earth, the bottom of the ocean, and the heights of the mountains. Dragons took to the skies, krakens harried the coasts, and misshapen creatures crept out of caverns. Worst of all were those who wore the form of men with naught but blackness in their souls, women who wove symbols with their fingers and called spells forth from their will alone. Black magic swept across the settled lands, and the worst of all were the Sorcerers, men and women of such power that they were no longer human, twisted and depraved in their desires. Those who resisted fell before the onslaught; those who surrendered lived in constant fear. It was the start of the First New Age, the Time of Darkness.

But magic is neither good nor evil, and so too did men with great strength emerge, brilliant women who could strategize, those who could heal, could build, could change, and could fly. Wizards and knights, archers and swordsmen, statesmen and spies, they faced the challenge and stood between the people and the shadows. Battle became the reality of life, the strongest leaders gathered the best and brightest around them, named them thanes, and thus were the Warlords born. People raised walls, moved inside them, and huddled behind the lines for the protection the Warlords could offer. In smaller holdings, firstborns still inherited, but as the Warlords grew in power, they began to choose their heirs from the children born with special talents, raised and trained to work together for the good of the land. From the Warlords came power of the King and to the King they owed their allegiance. Age-old traditions gave way in the face of need; prejudices fell away. There was no time to think of color of skin or shape of bodies or choice of lovers. There was only the struggle to stay alive.

And then among the Warlords and Thanes appeared the bonded, pairs of great heroes who changed the course of history. Separate, they were formidable foes; together, they could stand against immense numbers, even a Sorcerer. At the height of the Age, the greatest of these were Steven, Lord Rogers, and Thane Barnes. With their companions, they pushed back the enemies, forcing them to retreat to the depths and the desert, to the mountains and the barren waste. Years it took, and the cost was great; Barnes fell first into the dark pits between the peaks, and the mourning was great, for part of Steven's very soul fell with him. Yet, even greater were the cries of anguish when, in the final hours, Lord Rogers was lost beneath the icy waves of the ocean. Their sacrifice freed the entire land from the dark cloud that choked it, and, in respect, King Phillips created the title of Paladin to be the kingdom's champion, the greatest of all thanes with unerring moral strength and determination.

But now, another ruined land needed to be rebuilt, and years, decades, and centuries passed. The Warlords became Lords, but the honor of being chosen remained. The title of Thane became an honor, and chosen heirs were as plentiful as familial titles. New enemies, the human kind, harassed the kingdom, and slowly the memory of magic faded. Sorcerers became characters in children's stories, dragons images drawn by artists, and bonded pairs relegated to the domain of romantic stories sung by bards in bowers and halls. Humans multiplied, kings and queens came and went, and the people thrived. The Second New Age, a time of prosperity and growth, lengthened … and people forgot.

Until the Third New Age, the Time of Heroes, began. This is the story of those men and women who rose to the challenge of an even greater threat. Because, as we all know, magic never truly goes away …