The Chained God Tharizdun created the Abyss (according to 4th Edition lore) by inserting a shard of pure evil into the swirling maelstrom of the Elemental Chaos. As punishment for his crime, the other gods locked him away in an extraplanar prison.
As described in the last Abyssal Plague Design & Development column by James Wyatt, that extraplanar prison is the Voidharrow. The Voidharrow is a fossil parallel universe where the Abyss grew to consume the entire cosmos.
With what seemed at the time like poetic justice, the gods locked Tharizdun away in a dead continuum that had faced its final apocalypse and lost. It had been reduced to a cinder universe composed only of concentrated, distilled demonic essence. It contained no energy, no life, and nothing to sustain Tharizdun or empower him.
Of course it’s hard to keep an entity derived from malign entities introduced by H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith down for long (depending on your definition of “for long”). After millennia of effort and subtle influence, the Elder Elemental Eye (a name many of Tharizdun’s followers knew him by) gained the aid of mortal cultists. In time, these cults provided the strength the Chained God required to send out the substance of the Voidharrow like drilling tendrils into the world. He did so to force open a gate wide enough to permit his escape from the cinder cosmos and into the current living worlds of D&D, including Toril (the world of the Forgotten Realms).
What form do tendrils of a fossil universe take? In the case of the Voidhorrow, they appear as scarlet liquid shot through with veins of silver and flecks of gold. However, the tendrils proved more than pure demonic evil. Tharizdun learned that his was not the only will infusing the Voidhorrow—the demonic influence had an agenda of its own.
Sword of the Gods and Tharizdun
Here’s a secret: Sword of the Gods was first conceived as completely self-contained novel, without any ties to outside stories, and certainly not with connections to a story taking place in a different universe.
However it soon became clear that Tharizdun’s escape attempt was so impressive that it couldn’t be contained to just a single world. And sure enough, when Tharizdun’s A-Team cult finally opened the Vast Gate and created a tiny window into the Voidharrow, the multiverse trembled. And cracked.
Or what actually happened was this: Behind the scenes while I outlined the Sword of the Gods, a story team set to work. The team included myself, James Wyatt, Bill Slavicsek, Fleetwood Robbins, Susan Morris, Christopher Perkins, Erin Evans, and other writers, editors and even a few game designers (I recall sitting in a meeting with Rich Baker as we developed what the Abyssal Plague demons might be like). We put our thinking caps on and conceived the Abyssal Plague uber-story.
The upshot of my involvement on that team meant it was easy enough to modify my outline on the fly (even after I’d finished it and started the novel), as the Abyssal Plague story team refined the ideas and concepts behind Tharizdun’s prison break, and its effects on the many worlds of D&D.
James developed the identity of the adventurers who foiled the cultists’ first attempt to open the gate. We decided it would be interesting if James could use/preview the character I’d come up with for Sword of the Gods (a fine fellow called Demascus) as one of these adventurers in Gates of Madness. James thought he could pull that off, and better yet, do so without revealing the interesting secrets of the character I wanted to reveal in Sword of the Gods.
So it was that “Demas” and the other adventurers broke up the ritual. And as sometimes happens, the adventurers didn’t achieve complete success. In fact, it was quite a mess. Despite Tharizdun’s plot being foiled that time, fragments of the Voidharrow were scattered throughout the cosmos. And thanks to Demascus’s nature, he was pulled along with a couple of those fragments to someplace new . . .
Abyssal Plague in Faerûn
Sword of the Gods branches from the main storyline as told in The Mark of Nerath and Temple of the Yellow Skulls. Remember the fragments of Voidharrow that were scattered? A few of those fragments came to rest in Faerûn a few hundred years ago.
And wouldn’t you just know it, but those fragments weren’t just burned out chunks, but insidious seeds of something far more terrible. Voidharrow terrible.
As the novel begins, that’s the farthest thing from Demascus’s mind. He’s dealing with problems of his own, having awakened lying naked on a sacrificial altar surrounded by corpses and one not-quite dead demon. Worse, he’s slightly unclear how he came to find himself in such interesting straits.
Meanwhile, one of the Voidharrow fragments has finally managed to find itself a host. It’s causing trouble in the nation of Akanûl, a land south of the Sea of Fallen Stars. Calling itself Murmur, the fragment has the ability to infest the dreams of its host and tear nightmares from its victims to clothe in pseudo-living flesh. But Murmur is not without all compassion—it seeks to revitalize a sibling Voidharrow fragment that fell with it, one whose “dispersed” nature has scattered its consciousness. If Murmur can resuscitate its sibling (called Scour), the two Voidharrow demons will move on to their next project: whelming the Forgotten Realms with demonic excess as happened in their own home fossil continuum.
If you’re interested in discussing the Sword of the Gods in the WotC Novels Book Club, check out this ongoing discussion here. Either way, download a sample chapter of Sword of the Gods—which is actually the prologue, a prologue that gives away the secret that James did so well keeping in Gates of Madness!
A second novel featuring Demascus is pending (called Spinner of Lies). In it, our hero leaves the Abyssal Plague story arc behind, and concentrates on his own troubles with the intersection of fate, godly aspirations, and divine lies.
But the Voidharrow continues to trouble Faerûn.
Look for the novel Shadowbane by Eric Scott de Bie in the fall, featuring another fragment of Voidharrow, one that thinks of itself, when it can think at all, as an entity called Scour.
Unfortunately for the Realms, two different instances of Abyssal Plague means containment has been lost. The outbreak is wider than can be controlled in even two novels. Look for further repercussions of this demonic epidemic in early 2012!
Bruce R Cordell
Bruce R. Cordell is an Origins and ENnie award-winning game designer whose long list of professional credits include the D&D Gamma World Roleplaying Game, Dark Sun Campaign Setting, Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, Prince of Undeath, and Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead. Bruce is also an author of Forgotten Realms novels, most recently the Sword of the Gods books. Find him online at www.brucecordell.com.