The world has known war, and want, and withering.
The world is cold and crumbling.
You have a morsel of warmth, a tiny beacon of hope.
It glimmers in your hands like warm, rippling glass, like tears of joy.
Look how it glows.
Look at its colours.
It calls ever so softly to your heart.
Perhaps if you can kindle this tiny beacon …
Perhaps the world will live once more.
Will you take up that burden?
Will you share your tiny hope?
Will you try to mend a broken world?
Once, the world was brighter. All the grandames’ stories and minstrel’s tales say the same, at their roots; that, in the time of their grandfather’s grandfathers, there was no need to scratch at crumbling soil ceaselessly in a wish for just enough corn to survive. That watercourses did not wither and dry with no warning. That the bleak skies above were not crowded out by clouds the colour of lead and the clawing limbs of blackened forests. That illness and injury was not, so often, a maiming or a death sentence without recourse.
That the days were not filled with the threat of banditry and strange beasts and growing, mad ritual.
That the nights were not filled with the tread of insectile, bird-clawed nightmares wrought from cold metal and stolen dreams, broken bones and the blood of the very earth.
What the Silent Emperor wrought in madness and pain — what was called from a wild, grieving heart and fed with the life of the land itself — ended the War, but at great and terrible cost. The world survived the War Of Twin Fires, the grandames and minstrels say, only to die thread by thread with each passing year. No mercy, this. The wind is capcrious, the summers scorch while winters freeze their pound of flesh, and the earth beneath one’s feet dries and drifts on the wind. Those who were left — who are left — huddle in villages and broken keeps, behind tumbled stone and blackthorn, and their worlds are very small indeed. The land has fragmented into a hundred hundred tiny, warring fiefdoms, all squabbling over what remains.
As the world withered and faded, there were those who did not give up. Who offered what they had, little though it might be; shared what they could; fought off marauders and malaise. Many of them, most of them, gave their lives in the process. Some grew disillusioned, even as others struggled to pick up their banner.
And now, as time has marched on, and in the face of darkness and travail, those hopes have kindled and caught. Now dead morion’s smoky depths may cradle an ember of hope — a soft glow of hearthflame, those fragile hopes made manifest — and with it, a fighting chance to heal, to renew, to feel the warmth from the promise of a better life.
It’s a chance to push back against the nightmarish talon that ravage the world. And it’s going to take sacrifices big and small. But even a little victory is a victory.
He’d never been much for children. ignored them at best, actively avoided them when possible, though to his credit not once had he ever lifted a hand in anger. No call for that, ever.
But this was different. This was children — a village’s children, all that were left — laid low by want and privation brought on by pitiless warring lordlings. He suspected, at that, his own guilt in the matter. After all, hadn’t he been part of the iron-shoed bands that attached themselves to one petty knight or another?
But no more of that. He’d had enough of iron in the flesh, ashes in the gullet; enough of feeble crops under the torch and blooded boots and children whimpering for what their parents could no longer give them.
He clutched the sliver of warmth close; he felt the pull. The comfort it promised. He’d never knitted up so fast. Maybe it could help the kids, the villagers. Maybe he could find another.
He would bring life back to this village, at least.
It was the least, the very least, that he owed.
It’s said that the first to find themselves in possession of an ember of renewed hope was the leader of a roving band of scavengers and would-be road protectors; that she fought off one of the Silent Knights, or a pair of bone nightmares, and in her hand a chipped knife of morion-stone became, that evening, a soothing beacon of the hope she refused to let die.
Others say these are lies, and the first shards were found in the ashes of a hearth-fire kept fed twig by twig through a long and bitter night to keep warm the survivors of a village that lost everything.
It doesn’t matter, really, who was the first.
What matters is that they exist. That they can be found. That they can be given freely away, if desired; they are not bound to one and only one. Even, new tales say, they might be pooled together, though the means are never said.
What matters is that the hearthflame’s ember can soothe, can calm, can warm. Its presence allows for healing without drawn-out agonies, and rest that is true, and more besides. It drives the nightmare back.
Hope for the future, life for the world; like all things, it can be hoarded, or shared, or gifted to another.
Remember, though, that like the fire, hope may also be smothered.
– how did you come by your ember? –
01. woke from a dizzying whirl of dreams with it in hand
02. plucked it from a pile of mouldering bones
03. was bequeathed it from someone’s unexpected largesse
04. found it embedded in the heartwood of an ancient tree
05. saw it dropped from the sky by a dying blightraven
06. found it, as morion, in a hoarder’s unclaimed cache under some fieldstones
07. it was lying mysteriously in the middle of a barren field
08. a frantic stranger pressed it into your hands, then fled
09. it was amongst your payment for services made
10. it appeared in a shrine as you prayed (or cursed, or begged)
Some whispers say that if one searches long enough, if the need is great enough — if the hope and the will is true enough — one might find a hallowed place where an ember of hearthflame, or several, might even awaken a mass of morion into a hearth-heart and rejuvenate all the land around it … Is it possible that such a thing could exist? Could vitality be brought back beyond that gifted, traded, sacrificed from hand to hand, pooled together against the dark?
If it did, it might be seen as:
01. a translucent statue long overgrown by moss
02. a shimmering pillar in a hidden stony chamber
03. a fissuring passage that opens up into a softly beating geode
04. a standing-stone, worn smooth in parts by the touch of a thousand thousand hands
05. a swelling outcrop of smooth chert half-hidden in a cliffside
06. a dusty altar, hidden by years of ornaments and pleas
07. an ancient tree-bole, its heartwood not quite wood at all
08. a massive teardrop of shimmering facets floating in the midst of an abandoned High Hall
09. crushed and under pressure in the core of a decrepit war-cathedral
10. circling in slow gyres around a mountain peak like a luminous, half-solid cloud