As near as can be determined by its human inhabitants, Middleways is an alternate Earth.

Things age very slowly in Middleways due to a quirk in physics where oxygen does not combine as readily with other elements, allowing for the existence of Amrit, a substance/energy that is the basis of Middleways ecology. The trees, which are sentient, grow in excess of a thousand meters tall, and are known collectively as the Sisters, create Amrit as a metabolic process.

In the several thousand years before humans first had access to Middleways, the Sisters existed as the primary sentient beings, with various other flora and fauna that lived on Amrit either directly or indirectly, in the Crater. The Sisters formed cliques among one another, resulting in occasional ‘fights’ that largely involved hurling damaging amounts of Amrit at one another.

It was during such a fight in Earth’s western year of 1881 that the first ‘doorways’ to the Outside (Earth) were created. Whether the doorways were torn open by the energies being flung by the sisters or by some other process they were unaware of is not known. Within months of the doorways opening, humans began coming through them. The doorways were not obvious; in some cases they were not visible at all, and one would simply walk through them if they walked in a certain direction at a certain point in space.

Once humans began coming into Middleways, the effects on their metabolism and aging process were noted almost immediately. This, combined with untouched beauty of the landscape, led to the new dimension being referred to as Middleways, as it was ‘middle-ways between heaven and earth.’

There are other aspects of Middleways that have not to this point been explained. Some humans changed physically upon entry, the common thread seeming to be the physical changes reflected the way the humans felt they were ‘inside.’ Additionally, there were the ‘talents.’ Humans who came to Middleways found they had abilities there they did not have in the Outside. Many, if not most, of the abilities were fairly innocuous, while others were more interesting: the ability to see a person’s future, incredible strength or invulnerability, or the ability to break anything struck.

One talent that was not immediately recognized for the danger it represented was channeling, or ‘leeching’ as it came to be called. A human with the ability to channel could manipulate, give and take Amrit from any object in Middleways. A channeler could even take Amrit directly from a Sister against their wishes.

Thirty-two years after humans began coming to Middleways (1913), a channeler named Terrence Phillips made contact with a Sister who had taken the name Persephone. Persephone was still angry with two of her Sisters due to the fighting of 1881, and wished to teach them a lesson. She instructed Phillips in how to access the ‘core’ of a Sister in order to siphon off the Amrit they created before it could be released into the environment, effectively crippling the sister and rendering them unconscious. Phillips, who had already begun making money as a channeler by selling ‘jolts’ of Amrit to people, recognized the business opportunities almost immediately. The process Persephone had taught Phillips was supposed to be temporary, as it required a channeler in place to maintain the Amrit siphon. However, Phillips had discovered a technology that would channel Amrit in the absence of a channeler. This discovery allowed Phillips to place leeching devices in the Sisters’ cores, permanently draining their Amrit to Phillips and those he allowed to have access. The process of channeling Amrit through the devices had the effect of turning Amrit (which is typically bright blue) deep red and somewhat less potent, an effect that became known as Corruption.

Phillips turned on Persephone, slaving her using the instructions she had taught him, and began systematically adding Sisters to his network of ‘power plants,’ which became known collectively as the Corrupt. By 1928, he had enslaved thirty-eight Sisters and given himself the name The Executive, a name spoken with fear by most and hatred by the remaining Free Sisters, as they referred to themselves.

As the slaving process continued, a group of Free Sisters recognized they could not defend themselves against the Executive’s methods and began actively recruiting humans to act as defenders, choosing humans they could sense had unusually powerful talents. The sisters assisted in building homes for their defenders and lifted the homes high on their trunks, covering their cores. For a time, this prevented any new additions for the Executive, as he did not have the manpower to cope with the small but powerful squads of humans that had no compunctions about killing any Corrupt who approached their Sister. Within ten years, however, the Executive had built his military and technological arm to the point where the only delay between acquisitions was locating the raw materials for slaving devices.

Cassandra was the first to begin ‘listening at keyholes,’ the term for paying particular attention to the doorways in her area of influence to see if humans with powerful talents were passing close, and sending her existing defenders to recruit them. Extremely selective, Cassandra only added four defenders between 1970 and 2013, while losing three to battles with the corrupt.

In the summer of 2014, Cassandra added a new defender, Joshua McDaniel.

After that, shit got real.