With your eyes still screwed shut and your heart ready for the deathblow, you wait. Nothing happens. Or, perhaps it already has. As you open your eyes, you find yourself in the middle of a small, decrepit town. It reeks of waste. Rot has set in on the small wooden dwellings that dot the muddy streets. As you climb to your feet, you realize you are not alone. A few others share your bewildered look as they climb to their own feet. Who you assume to be the townsfolk — adorned in torn, soiled rags — look on you with weary, trodden eyes as they make their way to the village center. Thunder rumbles in the distance as a light rain falls, adding a cold pinch to the eerie black. At the center of town, crumbling wooden stalls dot the circumference of majestic buildings that have been reduced to rubble. Within the rubble, Greek columns lay on their side; shimmering from a sheen of cobwebs as the firelight from the bonfires of the now wretched illuminate the darkness.
The townsfolk call this land Elysia, a name you have heard from legend. Elysia is a paradise, reserved for heroes in their afterlife. It is said that it never rains or snows in Elysia, and a cool sea breeze tames the heat from the cloudless sky. Yet, clearly, something within the very ether of Elysia itself has broken. The townsfolk, offspring to mighty heroes from eons past, now cower at the thought of venturing beyond the edge of their meager village.
Yet you are here, proof alone that you were a mighty hero yourself in the life you had lived. Whatever the evil force was that darkened the skies and chilled the hearts of the Elysian born, you will not be swayed. You proceed into the void of the mountains, plains, deserts and forest of Elysia, unconcerned about the dangers sure to befall you.
The first ruined village
You step over the broken wooden fence, exiting the wilderness of Elysia — or so you thought. Before you lays a village laid to utter waste. Not a structure remains intact. The embers of some of the wooden homes still glow red and smoke rises into the sky here and there, like black serpents squirming their way out of hell. You hear movement. Not the footsteps of some intelligent being, but the skittering of some unknown beast. Out of nowhere it attacks!
The second village
You sigh a breath of relief as the trail widens and a bridge welcomes you into another village. Although just as in tatters as the village in which you awoke, you cannot help but feel that the people here are just a little bit better off. You make your way to the village tavern where a local plops down beside you.
“You are new, are you not?” he beams and then empties his mug in seconds.
“I thought this was supposed to be paradise?” you give him a pleading look.
“Oh, it was,” despite the color on his cheeks, his tone grows sober, “I was born here, so that makes me mortal. But this was a playground paradise for the souls of recently departed heroes. You may be immortal, but that just means you’ll heal eventually, so don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
“What happened here?” You lean in closer.
“Long ago,” he begins…
Long ago, upon arrival in Elysia, the heart of a fallen hero turned black. Having been a powerful hero during their lifetime, the life of leisure Elysia afforded them was more a curse than a blessing. At first, they satisfied themselves by loosing and defeating monsters from other realms. However, they soon grew bored of this and the monsters they ignored started ravishing the towns and villages built by us Elysian born. Our once great cities were laid to waste, and the skies slowly turned to a permanent gloom as their heart grew blacker still. Finally, they set their sights on people like you: newly awakened heroes who could entertain them, either as friend or as foe.