Far far away, jutting out into the emptiness beyond, like the figurehead of a mighty stone ship, is the Edge. At the very tip of this mighty cliff lies the Stone Gardens. Centuries ago, it was here that the buoyant flight-rocks grew in mighty stacks, and were harvested for use in the mighty sky galleons that plied their trade throughout the Edgeworld. On the largest rock of all, the magnificent city of Sanctaphrax was constructed.
However, there came an age, shortly after the loss of the great Sanctaphrax rock, when the flight-rocks crumbled, the sky ships dropped from the sky, and stone-flight came to an end. It was the era of stone sickness—that terrifying plague which decimated the great sky vessels and put an end to the First Age of Flight. Roughly five hundred and fifty years later, however, Old Sanctaphrax returned to the Edge, the monstrous demon known as the Gloamglozer was killed, and stone sickness was cured. Many inhabitants of the Edge decided to stay in the east, rebuild the ruined city, and create a place free from the greed and competition of the Third Age of Flight. But all was not well. Even as the mighty spires and viaducts of Sanctaphrax began to resemble their former glory, and the telltale bumps of newborn rocks began to appear in the pavement of the Stone Gardens, a shocking piece of news spread like wildfire from the west. Soon, it was on everybody's tongue: "Riverrise is at war!"
Far to the west, in a magnificent, lamplit city built into the side of the sacred mountain where life itself began, pandemonium and bloodshed were rampant. Almost immediately after the tyrannical Riverrise Custodians had been toppled from power and the life-giving waters of the Garden of Life had been made free to all, a mysterious army swept into the City of Night. The army was massive and diverse—goblins, trogs and trolls, shrykes, slaughterers, fettle-leggers, and fourthlings all marched on Riverrise, every single one of them seemingly bent on achieving a single goal: kill the waifs.
The City of Night was home to countless waifs. Waterwaifs, nightwaifs, flitterwaifs, bloodwaifs, barkwaifs, leechwaifs, greywaifs and ghostwaifs, copperwaifs and woodwaifs…all gifted with the power to read thoughts. For millennia, the waifs inhabited the dark, perilous Nightwoods—a black, treacherous forest to the west of the mighty Deepwoods. Ever since its founding, the city of Riverrise was home to the largest waif population of any organized settlement in the Edge. It was the waifs who ruled and governed the city, and always had been…until the strange army invaded. Thousands of waifs were brutally slaughtered, as well as those individuals who attempted to defend them, and the survivors fled the city, giving the armies full control of Riverrise. The commander of this great army, Vartolius Xax, had spent decades gathering enough followers and weapons so that he would be well prepared for the day he would make his move. The attack was well played. Vartolius Xax now ruled the city.
Just as the waif custodians of the tyrant, Golderayce One-Eye, had done, Vartolius Xax cut off the flow of sacred water from the Garden of Life. As his armies kept order in the city, he remained shut away in the great garden, performing unknown experiments and prolonging his life with the potent waters of the Riverrise spring. It was during one of his mysterious experiments that Vartolius Xax discovered that glisters—those elemental seeds of life that blew in from Open Sky—were capable of releasing vast quantities of energy. He began using the glisters to power machines. Above all, he discovered that the energy produced by enslaved glisters could be harnessed to create flying machines. Armed with this knowledge, Vartolius Xax paved the way for the Fourth Age of Flight—and set out to conquer the Edge.
Riding aboard mighty glisterships, the armies of Vartolius Xax launched mighty attacks on the Deepwoods cities of Great Glade and Hive. These new sky ships, faster and more efficient than phraxships, easily destroyed anything and anyone in their way. Great Glade and Hive fell, becoming part of Vartolius Xax's new empire. From there, conquering the other Deepwoods cities was no challenge at all. In no time at all, Vartolius Xax established himself as the Supreme Ruler of the Deepwoods.
The new order was not without resistance. A large number of Deepwoods dwellers were appalled not only by Xax's brutality and newfound authority, but also by the entire concept of the new Fourth Age of Flight. How dare anyone enslave the elemental building blocks of life for use in sky ships? Many considered the idea to be nothing short of sacrilege. But those who openly resisted were swiftly silenced. To keep order in his empire, Vartolius Xax employed the most ruthless and despicable individuals as the governors of the Deepwoods settlements. Worst of all were Xelius Pulnix, a fourthling who ruled Great Glade with an iron fist and terrorized the Edgeworld with his mighty glistership, the Vilnix Pompolnius; and Bloodhem Spikeflail, a bloodthirsty long-haired goblin who employed shryke sisters to keep order in Hive. Even worse, Vartolius Xax began to slaughter academics and destroy the precious barkscrolls which recorded the extensive knowledge of Earth- and Sky-Scholarship alike, believing that, with the knowledge of the past eliminated, he would crush any will of the common people to resist.
For the Deepwooders, their problems did not end at the rule of Vartolius Xax, for a new plague was spreading through the Deepwoods. Known simply as the Blight, the infection began in the Twilight Woods, killing every tree until the beguiling, phraxrich forest was reduced to a desolate, misty landscape of blackened, gnarled trunks. The Blight soon rippled out across the Deepwoods. Ironwood Pines, Leadwoods, Lufwoods, Lullabees, Redoaks and Blackwoods, Brackenpines and Sallowdrops, even the fearsome, flesh-eating Bloodoaks—the mysterious infection claimed them all. At first, the Blight rippled out at an alarming speed across the Deepwoods, causing mass panic that even Vartolius Xax was hard-pressed to quell. Eventually, the spread of the disease slowed as more of the Deepwoods withered, though it constantly crept forward, relentlessly devouring trees as it spread west.
There seemed to be no end to the theories of what caused the Blight. Some said that the restriction of the Riverrise water was finally beginning to dry up the forests. Others claimed that the Blight was a new manifestation of stone sickness, which, having been cleansed from the Stone Gardens, had now spread to the Deepwoods. Still others maintained that the Blight resulted from the forces of nature attempting to punish Vartolius Xax for his evil ways, though those individuals who openly purported this view tended to disappear without a trace.
The Glorious Leader, on the other hand, had different ideas. Just as his ancestor, Orbix Xaxis, had believed many centuries ago, Vartolius Xax believed that the cure for the Blight would come from the sky. The dictator began to construct an enormous tower at the center of the Garden of Life, lined within the walls by pure stormphrax, in the belief that when the Mother Storm herself returned to Riverrise and struck the new tower, the energy of the stormphrax would be released into the earth, spreading out across the Edgeworld and purifying the Deepwoods. He founded a new army, known as the Phraxguardians, and declared himself the Most High Phraxguardian, in tribute to Orbix Xaxis's ancient order, the Guardians of Night.
Eventually, the Great Phraxtower, as it became known, stretched farther from top to bottom than the Riverrise Mountain was tall. On previous visits to the Edge, the Mother Storm, that great maelstrom which first seeded the Edgeworld with life, had never approached Riverrise from such a height, but Vartolius Xax's weather forecasters, eyes trained on the patterns of Open Sky, believed that when the Mother Storm finally came back to the Edge in thousands of years, it would arrive from a far greater altitude.
Only one area of the Edge remained free from both the Blight and the tyranny of Vartolius Xax. A large number of dissenters who were not executed by the terrible Phraxguardians escaped to the east, where a group of Deepwooders were still diligently rebuilding Old Sanctaphrax. A mighty new city was formed at the eastern regions, known as Omniphrax. A haven for academics and Deepwooders alike, Omniphrax was heavily defended and protected from the Phraxguardians.
In Omniphrax, a new group emerged from the ranks of the Librarian Scholars—a group that dared to challenge Vartolius Xax. They were known as the Pirates Academic—scholars who, piloting First-Age sky galleons, raided the great cities of the Deepwoods, retrieving those barkscrolls Vartolius Xax's forces had not yet burned, rescuing hapless Deepwooders from the wrath of the Phraxguardians, and doing all they could to inconvenience the Glorious Leader and his empire.
Five hundred years have now passed since Vartolius Xax first invaded Riverrise. He and his governors are still alive, preserved, as Golderayce One-Eye was before them, by the life-giving waters of the Riverrise Spring. The Blight still terrorizes the Deepwoods, and Vartolius Xax still terrorizes the Deepwooders.
And Omniphrax is still holding its own at the very tip of the Edge.
It is during these times that a thirteen-year-old librarian by the name of Bron Rackis is studying in Omniphrax. His parents, who both served in the Twilight Marines, were killed during a glistership attack. He is taken care of by both the Librarian Scholars and his grandmother, a retired Pirate Academic by the name of Leris Quarter. He dreams of becoming a Pirate Academic just like his grandmother, and raiding the Deepwoods to rescue Deepwooders and knowledge in equal measure. He dreams of becoming a living legend, like the famous pirate duo, Captains Raziel Tollinix and Philbus Venvax. He dreams of defying Vartolius Xax…
The Deepwoods, the Stone Gardens, the Edgewater River. Undertown and Sanctaphrax. Names on a map.
Yet behind each name lie a thousand tales—tales that have been recorded in ancient scrolls, tales that have been passed down the generations by word of mouth—tales which even now are being told.
What follows is but one of those tales.