What Tol Once Was
The world was once composed of five kinds of people. There were the Savants of Water, the Savants of Earth, the Savants of Fire, the Savants of Air, and the Powerless. The Powerless were in the minority, at roughly only a quarter of the world’s population, while the Savants inherited, ruled, and kept the world in operation. Their widely varying abilities had immeasurable value for they sustained life on the planet, ensuring bountiful harvests, clean water, protection from natural disasters, and power.
Unfortunately for the Powerless, there was little room in this world for them. Able to provide nothing more than manual labor, few Powerless ever gained any influence or wealth. They were treated as second class citizens and were commonly denied education because they were unable to afford it. As far as the Savants were concerned, the Powerless were a burden of society, diminishing the greatness that their species could achieve. The Powerless were permitted to have only one child and they were strictly forbidden from laying with a Savant. Despite these subpar conditions, most of the Powerless were not bitter about their situations. They recognized the value that the Savants brought into the world and thus, in their own minds, justified their harsh treatment. Many Powerless had constructive and valuable relationships with Savants.
Among the Savants, there were many different social hierarchies, all depending on what part of the world was considered. The Savants of Fire were the most useful when kingdoms went to war, and so, kingdoms that went to war more often valued the Savants of Fire more than all else. There were other kingdoms that sought only peace and knowledge, wanting to study the mysteries of the universe and the mysteries of their own power: the Savants of Air and Earth were often the most useful for these purposes. Finally, the Savants of Water often carried miraculous healing powers and could improve the quality of life for all around them by improving farmland, restoring the purity of water, and curing the masses of disease and injury. Some Kingdoms valued the Savants of Water above all.
The Black Night
The first night when the demons of the Black Swarm arrived is commonly known as “The Black Night.” The demons emerged within the Kingdom of Valris, which was considered to be the “Capital of the World,” due to its central location and its overflowing Savant population. By morning, the city was in shambles, with its population reduced to nearly nothing. From there, the Swarm spread quickly over the countryside and was slowed neither by desert nor swamp, until it had enveloped the entire known world. Within a month, the world’s population had been reduced by half.
The Savants Fight Back from the City of Thalomos
The Savants quickly formed a plan to fight the Black Swarm. The Savants of Air sent messages through the realms, informing all who had survived to gather in the City of Thalomos, an easily defensible city built upon a lone mountain and farmland surrounding it on all sides. They arrived and overthrew the non-Savant warlord that had taken power, and made Thalomos into a haven for Savants to survive the Black Swarm. Many Savants died on their journey to the city, but the city was fifty-thousand strong a month after the Black Night.
In the months following the Black Night, virtually all Savants who did not make it to the City of Thalomos were killed. The population of the world dropped to almost a tenth of what it had been before the Black Night. With the Savants dead, the rest were left to fend for themselves, to desperately try to survive in a foreign world without the skills necessary for basic survival. For as long as anyone could remember, the world relied upon the Savants for all manners of things: the Earth and Water Savants ensured bountiful harvests each year. The Fire Savants provided heat and power, which was used in innumerable ways in day-to-day life. The Air Savants were vital in the vast communications framework that connected all of the realms; without them, every kingdom fell dark, isolated from each other with their communication lines broken. Within the first two years, not only were the Savants threatened, but the Powerless, too, who died in massive numbers from starvation and sickness.
With the world in chaos, those who could shed their morals and pounce on the opportunities were the ones who prospered. Local warlords began to gather armies; the lords would clash, one would be victorious, and all of remaining men from the battle would join together and form a larger war band. In this way, over the first year, the number of warlords declined until there was only one or two left in each kingdom, one of which possessing enough power to be named King and sit in the ruins of the Savant-constructed castle that once ruled over the realm.
The Siege of Thalomos
The Savants survived within the walls of Thalomos, battling the Black Swarm on a day to day basis. Every life lost was felt, for the Swarm appeared to be endless. They would kill twenty of the beasts to every one Savant, and yet the Swarm was relentless, the gathering of Savants sending the creatures into a mad rage. Their numbers dwindled, unable to work the lands surrounding the castle, and therefore lacking the rations to sustain the lengthy siege.
Almost a year since the Black Night, a non-Savant warlord descends from the northern mountains with an army only twenty-thousand strong. When they reach the gates of Thalomos, they stopped and waited for nightfall. When night came, so too did the Black Swarm and the non-Savant fought alongside the beasts, their combined power toppling the weary and diminished Savants. The beasts had been driven into such a frenzy over the Savants within the walls of Thalomos that they completely ignored the non-Savants around them. It was the first time anyone had heard of men fighting alongside the demons, as though allies; but after the warlord sacked the City of Thalomos and proclaimed himself King Thorius, that night would forever be remembered.
The King proclaimed an allegiance with the Black Swarm. He claimed that they were the wrathful hand of God, come to liberate all from the oppression of the Savants. He welcomed the Black Swarm to roam his cities unopposed; all who were killed by them were accused, post-mortem, to be Savants in hiding. And with a public composed of the warriors that had fought alongside the Black Swarm, their families, and refugees that had been denied access to the City over the last year when the Savants held it --- this public had no trouble hating the Savants and believing that what the King said was true.
King Thorius' Message Spreads
Over the next few years, the belief that the Black Swarm was the hand of God spread through many kingdoms. With many people bitter since their years of being second class citizens and with so much death and hardship around them, it was easy to blame and to hate the Savants. It was comforting to know that they had nothing to fear from the Black Swarm for they were not Savants; it was also appealing to no longer grieve for those who were killed, for they too must have been villainous Savants. It was only in a person’s final moments, when the dark creatures would set their sights upon him, would he realize that everything he believed was a lie; that these creatures, when they could not find Savants to kill, would kill anyone they could find.
The Collaborators for a Brave New Tomorrow
The Collaborators' stated mission is to change society’s perception of the Black Swarm -- that it is not the wrath of God come to purge Tol of the sinful Savants, but a callous and vicious enemy that kills without mercy or reason. But this mission goes directly against the will of those in power, who have convinced the public that they must all submit to the Black Swarm, for it is the will of God that every savant be purged from their realms.
The Collaborators have their own understandings about those proclamations. Society was barely holding itself together, with mass food shortages, widespread poverty and hardship, and chaos enveloping the realm as people were thrown into a world without the Savants to solve the questions of the world’s basic needs. In the eyes of the Collaborators, those who have seized power have used the Black Swarm to manipulate the very mind of the public. Every problem weighing upon society could be placed on the Savants. With the bodies of hundreds littering the streets after a Swarm had moved through, the echoes of King Thorius’s speech could be heard all throughout the city: “Look upon the dead among you and remember the past. Remember how your mothers and fathers were made to break their backs for the Savants! Remember how the Savants treated your family like cattle; how they lived their lives so extravagantly at your expense! Now they cling to what they once owned, wanting to seize it back or to bring it down to the grave with them! Are you hungry, my brothers and sisters? Is there no food to eat? The Savants living among us, angry and jealous that they have lost their power, have murdered our crops with drought! Are you sick, are you suffering? The Savants have poisoned the very water we drink; they will stop at nothing to destroy the society that has risen from their ruins! Be strong, my people, and celebrate with me as the Black Swarm purges our society of these villains!”
Such had been the talk in the region for eight years. In the eyes of the people, to deny that the Savant were the ultimate enemy was to disregard the past, the slavery of recent families and ancestors. The Collaborators were not spared from this thinking. They were no Savants in the Collaborators, or in the entire city, as far as anyone knew. The Collaborators did not believe that Savants could still live in the city with such great numbers; they believed that the Black Swarm killed indiscriminately. They also believed that King Thorius was lying – that there was more than enough food, medicine, and labor, but it had been locked away and reserved for only the rich; or, more accurately, only for the ones vicious enough to seize power the most effectively as society crumbled around them. They believed that their king would never advocate defending the people from the Black Swarm, for the manpower it required meant that he would lose his own personal army that he used to enforce his dictatorship. The Collaborators believed that their realm was in need of a new king.
This was the core of the Collaborator’s mission and it guided their every action. While they talked of defending the people, the actions they took were to murder, sabotage, and enforce their own brand of propaganda. For all who accepted the status quo, the Collaborators were terrorists, hell bent on destroying what semblances of society they had managed to build since the Black Night. But for those few who shared their sentiments and their vision, the Collaborators became the flag bearers of truth – and retribution.