In 12056 PC (Pellum Calendar), following the return of an exploratory mission to Pendar, the Society for Scientific Advancement voted to construct a great ship to simulate the environment of the newly-discovered world.
This ship was built in the form of a great hollow sphere. Excaliber was constructed to simulate the five great ecosystems of Pendar: the polar tundra, the temperate plains, the deciduous forests, the sub-tropical jungles, and the tropical deserts. All of the physical experiments that had been taken from Pendar were loaded onto Excaliber to populate these new ecosystems.
Although not originally designed for space travel, Excaliber was controlled from a small area at the top of the sphere-like ship called the Heavens. In 14045 PC, it was decided that the ship would be sent permanently to Pendar for unobtrusive research during the next perigee. Retrofitted with a one-use propulsion system, the navigators and crew manned their command stations in the Heavens.
Using magic found during their first voyage to Pendar, Pellum scientists created a central teleport system for the ship called the Ether. This allowed the crew to effortlessly move around the ship's vast ecosystems.
Finally, Pellum scientists created a prison - which they called Hell - that filled the lowest reaches of the ship. Hell had two purposes. First, it was used to hold those individuals who could not adapt to civilized life on Pellum - a better fate than death, according to its controllers. Second, the area was retrofitted with magic suppression engines specifically designed to counteract the ancient, slumbering beings the Pendar natives called the Elder Gods. This equipment was considered necessary after the 14045 PC decision to return permanently to Pendar.
In 12803 PC, the first life was transferred to the ship. There, scientists could perform experiments and observations in safe but authentic surroundings. Excaliber was the technological pinnacle of Pellum's achievements. For the next 2850 years, civilizations flourished, monsters abounded, and Excaliber was the focus of scientific interest. Those who lived on Excaliber called it the Netherworld.
In 15653 PC, Excaliber was launched on its one-way mission to Pendar. Nine months later, the ship arrived at Pendar where it was placed in a geosynchronous orbit that would keep it permanently in Pendar's nighttime shadow. Thus, Excaliber became the Dark Moon of Pendar.
Arrival at Pendar
We have arrived safely at Pendar with no casualties among the forty crew members, although it will be good to get our mission underway after nine months of travel. Our first order of business is to secure the suppression of the Elder Gods, as they are the only known force on this world to challenge us. After that, the crew will go planet-side to begin our research according the directives set forth in the mission. For now, we will keep the ship's inhabitants isolated from those on the planet. We don't know what to expect on Pendar. The world seems to be coming out of an Ice Age, so much has changed in the 3500 years since our last visit. This is the greatest experiment in our people's history. We have decided to begin our calendar by calling this time The First Age. Wish us luck. Captain out.
Morgai: The Price of Immortality
PRIORITY ALPHA BLACK: Fifty years after reaching the planet, we confirmed our initial suspicions that the atmosphere and/or conditions on Pendar have radical affect on the aging of our forty crew members. Those who were on long-term shore duty do not appear to have aged. They are still susceptible to massive injury, although small wounds and lost limbs regenerate. Furthermore, no terrestrial diseases or maladies seem to infect us. Once back on the Excaliber, aging seems to resume at the normal rate. Our scientists have been unable to determine an exact cause for this phenomenon.
While our training prepared us many possible encounters with this new world, we did not expect the psychological impact of being granted near-immortality. At first, the crew responded with euphoria over what appeared to be a miracle. Discussions on bringing the brightest Pellum minds aboard the Excaliber to keep them productive ad infinitum became rampant.
It has become evident, however, there is a dark side to our immortality. Perhaps, it is a sickness that can be treated, but it seems more psychological than physiological.
The problem began innocently enough. During our routine monitoring of communications, we intercepted a very weak signal from a distant world. The message was encoded by a crude cipher that was quickly broken. The message was a book of stories of the deities and demigods of the the peoples of that world. While void of scientific value, the work captured the imagination of the engineers and scientists aboard the Excaliber. More as a diversion, the crew began to refer to each other by the names of the deities in the book - doing some innocent roleplaying at first. Some even created weapons and gadgets to create the illusion that they had the powers described in the original text.
Over the years, however, the adoption of these new god names and persona have become an obsession with some - requiring disciplining of the crew that was never needed before. They have begun to create divisions - or tribes - based on the societies in the book. We now call this disease Morgai - so named because our communication officer adopted the name Morgaine - and left the Pellum without permission disappearing on Pendar to "live like a new god". As I feared, others followed Morgaine's path. We have created several automated stasis prisons on Pendar to hold the most infected among the crew - hopefully, they can be cured by our scientists and doctors in the future.
- Morgaine - whereabouts unknown
- Our twin engineers, calling themselves Set and Bast, left early in the Second Age (Pendar Time). Notebooks discovered in their quarters describe the building of a great pyramid complex. More disturbing, were notes about how they planned to subjugate the local populations to do the construction. Subsequent investigations have found evidence of their work in the Reaches - a simple prototype along the coast and a much more elaborate system in the desert to the east.
- The largest defection to date has been the "Sumer Seven" who were imprisoned on the shores of Sandal in the Second Age (Pendar Time).
- In time, the prison level of the ship was nicknamed "Hell" - again after the intercepted deities and demigods transmission. Prisoners were given names after the mythological classification of demons based on their crimes. "Satan" for a wrathful mass murderer, "Lucifer" for the prideful project director who covered up facts that led to 28 deaths among his team, and the like. Several attempts were made to escape - as the prisoners sought freedom and immortality on Pendar.
While not all of the crew have been affected, it is clear that we must resolve the nature and curability of Morgai before bringing others to Excaliber during the next conjunction. This message will remain PRIORITY ALPHA BLACK for my eyes only until then. Captain out.
The History of the Netherworld
The Time of Dragons and Elves
In those days, there were lakes which shimmered in the boughs of the great tree and cities in the sky and wild flying beasts of bronze. There were swarms of bees that filled the air and were larger than castles. There were shrill, viridian things that haunted bleak rivers. It was a time of giants who walked the earth; of mindless sprites and misshapen creatures who could be summoned by an ill-considered thought but driven away only on pain of some fearful sacrifice; of magic and impossible events; of nightmares assuming reality. It was a rich time and a dark time in the dawn before man.
On the Elven Tradition
Since the ancient days of old, the origin of the elven people has been a source of both joy and sorrow. In those days, the elvish claim to Lywam-an-Esh was based on their ancestral precedence to their dragon counterparts. Human historians have claimed that it was precisely this debate over original ancestry that caused the great war between the elves and the dragons.
What can be said is that the first elven king was crowned over two millennium ago. At that time, the elves were a peaceful race of hunters. Their villages were nestled among the leafy branches of the great tree. A simple people, the elven men spent their days hunting fowl and small woodland animals and their evenings telling the tales and legends for which they are now famous. In the early days of Ariandor, there was a tranquility in the air. The elves had few natural enemies, although an occasional wandering band of hill giants or ogres would travel onto the branches of Lywam-an-Esh. In this early age, there were no humans inhabiting the rim of the great pit, and the denizens that did live in the area were generally content to live their isolated existence. Apart from their hunting and storytelling, the elves had a few great passions. Being a curious race, the elven people had a keen fondness for magical tricks and devices. They were not the great wizards of the gnomish tradition, but rather they were artifact collectors and alchemists of natural potions and remedies. From the earliest times, the elven people have been fascinated with tracing their family heritage. It is said that near the Temple of Alderon, a great book of lineage is kept. Most elves claim themselves direct descendants of Corellon Larethian, as do the great line of elven kings. Being a curious people, the elves also possess a fondness for exploring. It is said back in the earliest days of the elven memory that a young elven boy found a passage, the Crevice of Travish, which led into the trunk of the great tree wherein lay the dying body of an old elven man. Near the body, two tree imps were making off with the old elf's only possessions, a flask of water and a brilliant red ruby. The young elf heard a muffled cry for water as he moved to intercept the imps. It was clear that only one of the small creatures could be caught while the other would escape, and, as the venerable legend tells, the young elf regained the flask. What transpired next is a point of academic debate. The popular legend holds that the old man was a manifestation of the elven god of nature, Alderon. After saving the old man, Travish was rewarded with the magical Ruby of the Elven Will. The ruby became the symbol of elvish honor, and its magnificence has been passed down from king to king.
Of the many virtues that can be found beneath the heavens, the elves hold none in higher esteem than that of the natural forces. It is from these values, that the elven pantheon draws its gods. Like the elven people and their lives, the gods of these ancient peoples existed in simple harmony. Above all others is Alderon, God of Nature, who manifests his existence in everything from the green leaves of Spring to the cold winds of Autumn. Within his domain are a number of lesser dieties who exercise domain over the rains and snows, the plants and flowers, and even the beasts who roam the lands. And Alderon has given the elves a sacred trust as the keeper of all things natural. This code is exemplified in their greatest hero, Corellon Larethian, a bowman of antiquity whose blue crescent symbol has become the holiest sign among the elven race. As legend has it, Corellon saved the great tree Lywam-an-Esh from the boring menace and their foul disease. It was late in the Spring of a year beyond the dim memory of the oldest living elf, and the great tree had not sprouted its regal foliage of fine broad green leaves. And in the holiest of temples, a great festering wound poured forth a thick black sap from deep within the trunk of Lywam-an-Esh. Only one among the elves, Corellon Larethian, armed with his bow and dagger, braved descent into that foul pit. Within the bore holes of the wood mites, Corellon found himself, alone and in danger. It is said that the wood mite tunnels reach from the highest branches to the bowels of the earth. The wood mites live in organized units each centered around a queen, hidden in a lair, producing hundreds of eggs and sending her subtle vibrational commands through the very wood itself. Within those caves, Corellon wandered looking for the queen of those insects whose daily activities threatened the life of Lywam-an-Esh. It is said that hundreds of the scurrying creatures fell under the never-erring arrows of Corellon, before the slight elven figure entered into the great birthing chamber of Scirab Fas, queen of the wood mites. With an arrow poised at her great formless mass, Scirab Fas listened as Corellon described the plight of the elves who lived outside her dark and sunless domain. What agreement was made between the greatest elven hero and the queen of the wood mites is another point of academic debate. Scholars do agree that the trunk of Lywam-an-Esh was returned to the elven protectors until the time of the Great Schism at the end of the Wealsun War, but that is another tale.
And so it passed with these most ancient of peoples, undisturbed and unchallenged. That is until the Festival of the Wealsun in the reign of Merelandria, the fifth elvish king. It was on that glorious sunny day that the skies were darkened by the most fearsome of creatures. Descending from their perches in the highest branches of Lywan-an-Esh, the great dragons struck with a vengeance that the elves did not expect or understand. That every elf was not destroyed was a miracle. Only their uncanny ability to hide among the branches of the great tree saved the elves. This was the beginning of two hundred years of bloodshed and terror, it was the beginning of the Wealsun War which would span the reign of four elven kings.
The Wealsun War
The high king was a tall by elven standards, his thin frame and loose garments disguised a body tempered by a war that had lasted for nearly two hundred years. While Florimund of the Green Bow wore a jeweled crown on top his graying pate, possessed the Ruby of the Elven Will, and carried the scepter known as the Harbinger, it was the king's manner that betrayed his resignation and defeat. In their long and noble history, the elves had fought many courageous battles. More than once, their enemies tasted the hardened steel of the elven blade and fell beneath the firm resolve of the elven will. But such tales were now simply that, stories told to entertain the dwindling numbers of children living amongst the branches of Lywam-An-Esh. It was the darkest time in all of elven history. From the outside, the great festival hall could have easily been mistaken for a massive tangle of vines and branches. Inside, the scene was grim. The great oaken table that had seen centuries of mirth and merriment was now covered with the maps and documents of war. It had been the bloodiest year that any elf could remember. The souls of over two hundred brave fighters had been released to a greater reward, and the elven king knew that his people would not see another Wealsun festival if the battles continued. For seven days the king sat in the throne room. In the first ten minutes, he knew what must be done. For the next six days, he grappled with the horror of his decision. And so it was that he came to be seated across from two foul creatures, two beings that would normally have been victims of his noble steel, two monsters that grinned at the elven king and watched as he painfully signed a treaty that would end the Wealsun War.
And so the wood mites gained control of the great trunk of Lywam-an-Esh, and the elves lost their most sacred temple. In exchange, the wood mites exercised some ancient control over the dragons, who for their own part, could scarcely afford to continue the prolonged war. If the loss of their most holy ground was not enough, the elves had another debt to repay. It is said that among their curious artifacts, the elves possessed a magical flute. From this instrument came the sweetest music, hypnotic and melodic. From this instrument also came the Lords of Chaos, beings of a cruel and twisted purpose. With these beings came the rimsghouls, mindless beasts of terrifying power. The rimsghouls were creatures of nighttime and darkness, appearing during the evening just to disappear before the first rays of daylight. The elves held these mystical creatures in the greatest of awe and the greatest of contempt. With a resigned shudder, the elven king allowed the rimsghouls to protect the night skies from the dragons which filled his children's nightmares. And finally, the elven king turned his thoughts to the great Eagles of the Crystalmist Mountains. A smile crossed his weathered face, as Florimund of the Green Bow considered the long hours he had spent playing chess with his good friend, Nyr Dyv, ruler of Stonegate (known to men as Eagle's Hold), and Master of the Eagles. A sole shining light in the dim misery of the past year. Long talks on philosophy and art, on love and war, and on the nature of existence and of the universe. Among the denizens of Ariandor, the eagles were the only allies to give the elves protection of their own free will. The pact was signed, and for the time being, the elves were once again safe. And so the war ended, an ignoble ending to a cruel and pointless exercise.
The Great Schism
There was another ramification of his decision that even Florimund of the Green Bow could not have anticipated. Two hundred years of war had worn the elven people almost to the point of extinction, but their spirits and pride were as resolute as they were on the day of the Wealsun Festival so many decades before. Among the elven survivors were two factions who felt that the elven will had been betrayed, along with their own trust. This was the time of the Great Schism. In the entirety of elven history, Rabindranath is considered one of its strangest fellows. Of a simple and devoted upbringing, Rabindranath was a priest in one of the small temples dedicated to Alderon. During the reading of the scripture one morning, Rabindranath fell into a frenzied fit and began shrieking the scripture passages backwards at the top of his lungs, white froth bubbling from his lips. Several days later, as the young priest regained consciousness, he seemed only weakened from his ordeal. However, a subtle change had overtaken the elf, and slowly he began to break away from the traditional religious preachings of his peers. After several months, Rabindranath left the holy elven order and took with him a small following. He preached the beauty of the darkness and night. He portrayed the rimghouls as the saviors of the elven people, and rumor holds that strange sacrifices were soon being made at his secret temple. When the Wealsun War ended, Rabindranath challenged Florimund's right to carry the Ruby of the Elven Will. His heretical ways doomed Rabindranath's claim, and the mad priest and his following soon left to live in the lower branches of Lywam-an-Esh, in splendid darkness. And so the Dark Elves left the world of light never to be heard from again.
But Florimund's troubles did not end with the departure of Rabindranath and his evil followers. It was an ancient tradition of the elven peoples to isolate their greatest minds in a place where daily needs and concerns did not intrude. Such a place was Silver Hollow. Here, the brilliant thinkers considered abstract subjects free of the cares of the Wealsun War. Among the residents of Silver Hollow was one Beylard Greenleaf, a magician of some renown. Beylard had a keen fondness for small fire crystals that can be found in abundance in the caves near the present-day town of Carendell. It was a fascination with the light bending properties of the crystals that intrigued the young elf. The fact that the fire crystals would periodically explode was merely an annoyance for the magician. Tales of Beylard's mishaps soon reached Florimund's hall, and the king sent a dispatch to fetch the fire crystals to be used as a weapon of war. Outraged, Beylard and a group of his companions left their sanctuary at Silver Hollow and marched to Florimund's hall. What transpired in the meeting between the young magician and the elder king is not clear. Soon afterwards, Beylard and his band of magicians and thinkers left the great branch of Lywam-an-Esh and its safety for the higher reaches of the great tree. It is rumored that these Lost Elves found a home near the nests of the great dragons, and some even hold that they are the forefathers of the terrible Dragon Lords of the present day.
The Elven Shield
It was an age after the Wealsun War, a time when the elves and the dragons, age-old enemies, were dying. They had dwelt a thousand or more years upon the planet which now, at last, seemed at rest. Their feud had dwindled their populations to a dangerous few. They knew of mankind but considered them not greatly different from other beasts. Though continuing to indulge in their traditional hatred of one another, the elves and the dragons now spent their long hours in considering abstractions. Rational, sophisticated, at one with themselves, these older races were unable to believe in the changes that had come. Thus, as it almost always is, they ignored the signs. There was no exchange of knowledge between the two ancient enemies, even though they had fought their last battle many centuries before. Both races reckoned themselves invulnerable. Both were wrong.
Ironically, it was the retrospect elves cloistered away in their remote cities that were the first to realize that mankind would soon cross the passes from other lands into Ariandor. Once in Ariandor, they would not rest until Lywam-an-Esh had fallen under their primitive and uncultured hands. It was the Elven shield that protected Ariandor from the barbaric human tribes that lived in the outlying regions. The shield was a intricate web of spells controlled by the ruby of the Elven Will worn on the fingers of a long line of Elven kings. These spells were devised to key on the most primitive instincts of base animals, fear. Thus protected, the elves were content to live their existence in Lywam-an-Esh knowing that the animal known as man would never conquer his fears. But mankind did overcome these fears, he crossed the passes into Ariandor, and the Elves would once again find themselves faced with war.
On the Dragons of Ariandor
The dragons, on the other hand, lived in their cities built in the upper reaches of Lywam-an-Esh. They, also, had little contact, even with their closest kin. The history of the dragons of the Netherworld is a long and complex one. A legend whose beginnings are obscured by the dimming effects of time. In the misty dawn of antiquity, there was a time known as the Nesting. A time before the first dragons. A time, some reckon, before the first elves. A time before the first man had emerged from their primitive ancestry. It is said that the gods brought together the great forces of nature in a storm of such magnitude that the earth shook and the skies turned dark. Slowly, the tempest began to coalesce, and a magical transformation took place. The fury of the storm was undiminished, but its form began to solidify. First, the tempest became spherical and then oblong, finally forming into several dozen large eggs. Each egg of a vibrant hue containing within its fragile shell a life whose energy was drawn from the power of the elements.
In the rarefied interwoven network of branches high above the ground of Ariandor, the first of the great eggs slowly began to crack open as the life within struggled to emerge. In later times, the pitiful black beast would come to be known as Tien, Lord of the Dragons. But in those earliest times in dragon lore, Tien was a small insignificant addition to an unforgiving world. In time, the eight eggs all opened revealing dragons of three different hues. From their humble beginnings, it would be hard for even the gods to guess that these creatures would become the largest, most powerful, and dominating creatures to exist in the history of Ariandor. What magical intelligence formed these mysterious eggs is still unknown, for the dragons hold no gods above them. Through their complex and sophisticated oratories, the dragons tell that the universe needed masters, beings of superior power and intellect, and so legend holds that the dragons were created to look after the world of Ariandor.
In their time, the dragons would become, arguably, the greatest analytical thinkers of their time. They would master the disciplines of mathematics, physics, and astronomy. Countless hours would be spent in consideration of abstract puzzles and riddles. It was the great black dragons who, by virtue of their eldest birth, would be granted the luxury of rulership and profound thought. In fact, the discovery of geometry has been credited to Tien, although it is more likely to have been the result of the brilliant mathematician Bilikdur.
It is said that the upper branches of Lywam-an-Esh spread out to the heavens in that thin cold atmosphere leagues above the ground of Ariandor. The branches of the great tree are, in the highest of reaches, very brittle and weak. Some attribute this weakness to the great distance that water and nutrients must travel from the bowels of the earth to nourish the nests of the dragons. Others say that it is the clandestine workings of the wood mites that cause this phenomena. Whatever the case, the dragons have long been concerned with the state of their home. It fell upon the red dragons, the architects and engineers, to gather strong fresh wood from the lower branches of the great tree and build the legendary city of Tiefwilbinatur, known to men as Dragonscrest. The dry climate and harsh winds made the upkeep of the dragon city a constant struggle. In the times of the Dragon Wars, it is said that the armies of Alderon the Bold destroyed Tiefwilbinatur and laid waste to two thousand years of dragon history.
In the highest boughs of Lywam-an-Esh, there was no food to satisfy the carnivorous appetites of the giant dragons. Although the massive beasts could go for weeks without nourishment, the dragons loved to dine on the finest meats from the Ariandor plains. Slowly the shadows of the great bronze flying beasts would circle the fields, looking for herd animals to swiftly dispatch. In the earliest times, the dragons had no natural enemies, and so the bronze dragons were the hunters and gatherers of food. Later, the bronze dragons would be called upon to protect Tiefwilbinatur from the rimsghouls at night and invading armies of men during the day.
But to say that the dragons were merely meat-eating animals would be to do those magnificent creatures a great injustice. Like their elven counterpart, the dragons were sophisticated and thoughtful. The dragon language is ponderous, and a greeting to an old friend may take the better part of an afternoon. In their lifetimes, which could span the better part of five centuries, the dragons gained a great appreciation for the beauty of Ariandor. Theirs was a deep and subtle culture, unlike the barbaric men who would cross over the passes into Ariandor and eventually conquer this eldest race.
Early in their quests for food and supplies, the dragons encountered the elven race, also waking from the mists of a recent birth onto the planet. To this day, historians argue whether their first encounter was a friendly one. From an ancient elvish manuscript uncovered in an archaeological site near Boughlake, it is likely that the first elves and the first dragons were indeed allies. The close parallels in the early development of the two cultures are a convincing argument for an entwined past.
In the oral tradition of dragon lore, there is the legend of Bilik, a black dragon of epic proportions. It is said that among the first nesting of dragons, the last to emerge into the harsh cold air was a very small black dragon named Bilik. Bilik suffered from a number of physical deformities, one of which limited his power of flight. Being an enlightened race, Bilik was not discarded from society because of his weaknesses. In time, this crippled black dragon proved to be a most brilliant thinker, far outshining the other dragons of the first nesting. Bilik longed to travel from the safe confines of the partially constructed Tiefwilbinatur to see the world. In particular, he wanted to study the elven people with whom recent contact had been made. And so, Bilik constructed a sling which would allow two of his fellow dragons to support the small black dragon between them during flight. Braving the dizzying flight down to the lower branches of Lywam-an-Esh, Bilik was able to fulfill his passion and meet with the elven thinker, Karelia Greenleaf. Karelia was a shy elven girl, fair and willowy, whose voice was soft but whose thoughts were deep and profound. For hours, the twisted black body of Bilik and the fair countenance of the elven girl were wrapped in quiet conversation. An occasional rumble of laughter would shake the ground, as Bilik listened to an elvish tale of mirth. It was at one such meeting, that Bilik and Karelia were so engrossed with their talk that neither of them heard the band of hill giants pounding through the woods nearby. Suddenly, the giants broke through a thicket of branches a scant hundred yards away. Normally, hill giants would never attack such a huge beast as a black dragon, and it is here that the legend takes on two storylines. The elven tale of Bilik and Karelia tell of hill giants gone mad with hunger, screaming and frothing from the lips. The dragon legend portrays a more sinister plot. Some of the ancient dragons say that the hill giants were sent to the clearing by elves who did not want to see the two race allied. Whatever the case, Bilik knew that he could not escape with Karelia and that his chance of defeating the giants in combat were slim. When the elven hunters finally came across the bloody body of Bilik, Karelia was nowhere in sight. Then, a muffled cry came from beneath the massive body of the black dragon. There, in a small pit dug by the Bilik in those few moments before the hill giants arrived, was Karelia, scared but safe. It seems that Bilik used the only advantage that he had against the giants, his tremendous size, to create a safe haven for the elven girl.
It is said that in the years following the death of Bilik that relations became strained with the elves. The exact nature of their struggle is not clear. Human historians attribute the strife and ensuing Wealsun War to one attribute that the dragon held in proportion to their tremendous size, their pride. The dragons felt that extinguishing the elves from the branches of Lywam-an-Esh would take a few attacks, perhaps a month at the outside. In their arrogance and intolerance, the dragons plunged themselves into a battle which would last hundreds of years. This was not their only mistake. It is said that if one were to count all of the dragons that ever circled the skies of Ariandor, the total number would be less than three hundred. Almost forty dragons were thought to be killed in the Wealsun War. The dragons thought that they would never be challenged in the skies. The great eagles and rimsghouls proved this claim wrong. The dragons thought that their home high in the boughs of Lywam-an-Esh was invulnerable. Yet the wood mites almost destroyed Tiefwilbinatur from within, causing a rotting disease that the engineers and architects could scarcely control. In the end, the dragons retreated to the safety of the highest reaches of the trees. What treaty was signed by these noble beasts is not known. Soon, however, the large bronze dragons were again circling the skies above the plains of Ariandor. Several centuries of relative peace would pass before mankind would emerge from his ancestral homes to challenge the dragons. The Wealsun War had ended in a stalemate, the Dragon War would not. But, alas, that is another story.
The Rise Of Mankind
In the distant past there was a time when Man, the slave of fear, was emerging, unaware that much of the terror he experienced was the result of nothing else but the fact that he, himself, had come into existence. Mankind lived brief lives and bred prodigiously. Within a few centuries they would rise to dominate the continents surrounding Ariandor on which they had evolved. In the west, the Suel would built a great and sophisticated empire. The Flanish tribesmen would conquer the beasts of the Evertangle Forest, and the Oeridians would create a vast trade empire. However, superstition stopped these races from travelling across the passes into Ariandor for another century or two, but gradually they gained courage when no resistance was offered. They began to feel jealous of the older races they found in the boughs of Lywam-an-Esh. They began to feel malicious. The elves and the dragons were not aware of this. It is said that an elvish prophet known as Aggleroot had once foretold that a new race would begin to breed and spread like a pestilence across the world. And this pestilence would strike down the old races wherever it touched them. And it was not only death that would be brought, but terror, too. The older world would be turned into nothing but ruins and bones. And the elder races would begin to know fear.
And man, arrogant in his ignorance, continued his stumbling progress. He was blind to the huge disruptions aroused by his apparently petty ambitions. Man was deficient in sensitivity, had no awareness of the multitude of dimensions that filled the universe, where each action intersected with several others. Not so the elves and the dragons, who had glimpsed and understood the nature of the universe through which the world moved. Therefore it seemed a dreadful injustice that these wise races should perish at the hands of creatures who were still little more than animals. It was as if vultures feasted on and squabbled over the paralyzed body of the youthful poet who could only stare at them with puzzled eyes as they slowly robbed him of an exquisite existence they would never appreciate, never know they were usurping. It was unjust.
Migrating bands of humans began settling Ariandor over a millennium ago. The first to arrive were the Flan tribesmen from the Evertangle Forest. These humans were hardy and capable hunters but not particularly warlike, and their small and scattered groups made no appreciable civilizing effect. They moved southward through the Kendeen Pass (destroyed in antiquity by the wizard Celbit). The Flans circled the great pit living in small bands and foraging from the surrounding areas.
Within a score of years after the arrival of the Flans, the Elven Shield was again penetrated by mankind. This time, it was the Oeridian peoples, fleeing the great oppression of the Fhoi Moire in their homeland of Gnarth, that moved northward through an ancient cavern system under the Crystalmist Mountains. The Oeridians quickly establish two ancient strongholds, Jebli and High Jeblinc, in the southwestern region of Ariandor (near the modern towns of Maldonbridge and Drearoost). Small villages of Oeridians could soon be found circling the rim. After some initial skirmishes between the Flans and Oeridians, the latter became the dominant force in the area. And a primitive economic network was established linking the remote villages.
After one hundred years, the peaceful tranquility of Ariandor was broken by the invasion of the Suel armies moving west from the Great Kingdom. Unlike the Oeridians who were fleeing from oppression, the Suel came through the Pass of Baklunish to conquer new lands and people. The Suel hordes pillaged the western Oeridian villages quickly and ruthlessly, driving the fleeing Oeridians in front of them. The Flans were used as mercenaries on both sides, and the fighting intensified as word returned to Jebli and High Jeblinc of the invasion. A great army of Oeridians was constructed and they marched around the rim in order to engage the enemy. It was on the Plain of Marik (near the present day village of Ardenwood), that the Oeridian army and the Suel legions first clashed. The first victory belonged to the Suel, whose superior bows, blades, and training were no match for the Oeridians. News of the defeat quickly returned to King Ibzric at High Jeblinc.
But the Oeridians were a race of great wizards. Faced with defeat by the reinforcements coming through the Pass of Baklunish, the Oeridian mages called down the Rain of Colorless Fire in a last terrible curse, and this so affected the Great Kingdom so as to cause it to become a vast and lifeless wasteland. And so it became that the homelands of both the Oeridian and Suel peoples were devastated. The former by the cold of the malformed Fhoi Myore in their poorly constructed wicker carts, and the latter by the fiery wrath of the Oeridian mages. Sufficient numbers of Suel remained to hold the eastern rim of the great pit and maintain their small strongholds. In the west, the Oeridians recovered from the devastating losses incurred during their recent battles to rebuild a network of roads and trade routes. If not a sense of peace, at least a sense of toleration settled over Ariandor.
In the north, the rich ground yielded bountiful harvests of grain and herds of fattened cattle. The south overflowed with minerals. And so, it was an economic fact that the three human races would not be able to survive long without a system of trade and barter. In time, it became hard to recognize the traits of the different races, and the villages around the rim slowly blended into a homogeneous mixture of humans. The Suel were a shorter people, with a dark complexion, black hair, and a thick guttural tongue. By contrast, the Oeridians were tall, fair skinned, and blond headed. Their native tongue was melodic and flowing, and they seemed graceful by comparison with their Suel counterparts. The Flannish people, who, during this time were interspersed with the other races, were a balance between the Suel and Oeridians. The Flannish were of a medium complexion and height with brown, chestnut, and red hair. In time, the different languages blended into a common tongue. Now, the eastern and western towns retain only a slight hint of their original dialects.
Although it was a time of relative peace in the lands surrounding the pit, Ariandor remained a dangerous land in which to travel. Late night encounters between the rimsghouls and humans travelers were common. In almost every case, it was a crumpled human body that told the tale, and not the traveler himself. Encounters between humans and dragons were very rare. Some say that this was because the dragons were not fond of the taste of human flesh, but it is more likely that very few men survived to tell the tale. There are two stories of contact between humans and the great eagles, but the validity of these legends are, at best, tenuous. In addition, it is almost certain that wandering bands of hill giants, ogres, and other nasty monsters plagued road travel. As a result, the villages of Ariandor remained isolated, with their own governments, laws, and customs. And so peace and prosperity settled onto the lands of Ariandor for several hundred years. It was a harsh wilderness, and mankind had many obstacles to overcome.
The Dragon War
Then came the great Dragon War. Infant mankind fighting against a foe so ancient that its own beginnings were lost in obscure ritual. High in the boughs of Lywam-an-Esh, the dragons contemplated the esoteric and sublime. Below them, mankind was mastering the art of war. Still, there were great expanses of sky separating the two. However, the great Tranir dragonflies and Denir moths were soon saddled in brightly colored war gear and ready to fight. The leader of the men, Bertran the Bold, had assembled three great divisions of troops. Numbering almost twelve hundred fighters and a handful of spellcasters and specialists, the army of Bertran was the largest single army ever to be seen in Ariandor. The banners on the war tents flapped brightly in the breeze, and still the dragons slept in their castles. Bertran, the most powerful merchant of meat and leather in Ariandor, had made a call to all the towns and villages in the Rim. Young men and old men, explorers from Gnarth, apprentice wizards and their wizened masters, men dressed in well-shined armor and those in rags; converging en masse on Bertran's castle at Black Lake (now known as Dragon's Hollow).
There are a number historical events that led mankind to destroy the dragons, those most ancient of creatures. That great flying beasts of bronze periodically snatched a prized cow from human pastures cannot be doubted. That the dragons threatened to wipe out entire herds of domesticated cattle, as was popularly held in Bertran's time, is very unlikely. It is more likely that Bertran's herds (being the largest and most well-fed animals) were victimized more frequently by the dragons. In either case, the angry merchant offered great sums of money and gems to fight in his army against the denizens of Lywam-an-Esh's highest branches.
The three great divisions were headed by the three greatest warriors of the time. Bertran the Bold, father of Elzric, was to lead the first attack on the Tiefwilbinatur. The maddened merchant led several hundred archers and spellcasters into the sky towards the thin air of the upper branches of the great tree. The Battle of Tiefwilbinatur was a strategic masterpiece. There were three keys to Bertran's attack. First, the dragons lived in small isolated family units in castle-like structures randomly scattered over the entirety of the upper branches of Lywam-an-Esh. Bertran sacked these small communities one at a time, using the power of his spellcasters to keep the sounds and sights of battle as well hidden as possible. In this way, the human army never faced more than a dozen of the great beasts at one time. Second, while any single dragon could defeat any single man, Bertran used his superior numbers to tire the dragons out. It is said that the breath weapons of the great beasts never caught more than two humans at one time. The audacity of the attack maddened the dragons, and Bertran fueled this anger by taunting the great beasts with their more maneuverable mounts. Finally, the dragons had never fought a defensive battle at home. Carefully placed decoys caused the great beasts to crash headlong into their own castles. Several times, the flaming breath of a red dragon tore gaping holes through the branches of Lywam-an-Esh. The first division of warriors was followed by two more. Each time, the dragons were further thrown into confusion. The dragons were beasts of thought, not of war. The entirety of the Dragon War took only two years to complete, compared to the two hundred years of the Wealsun War. The armies of Ariandor showed surprising cunning and ingenuity in defeating the dragons. It is in the latter days of the Dragon War that several interesting events took place.
It is said that in two years, almost forty of the great flying beasts were killed, mostly copper dragons on raids of human strongholds. The estimated losses on the human side vary widely from expert to expert. It is safe to estimate that between five hundred and a thousand men perished, most of them Flannish archers. While the Battle of Tiefwilbinatur was a staggering success for the men of Ariandor, the battles fought in their villages were devastating. The complete devastation of Jebli (at the site of the modern town of Maldonbridge) was a typical example. Only the evacuation of the women, children, and animals kept the battle from crippling that portion of the southwest rim.
In the last days of the war, Bertran ordered his troops to fight only if attacked. As if by magic, the dragon raids mysteriously stopped at the same time. It was on a bright sunny day that Bertran, wearing his most regal finery, mounted a large Tranir Dragonfly and, flanked by six of his closest advisors (one being his son Elzric), left Ariandor for negotiations in Dragonscrest. The men that witnessed the provisions between the infants of Ariandor and their venerable foes are long since dead. History tells us that three days later Bertran and four of his comrades returned. What happened to the other two diplomats is not known. It was a time of great feasting and celebration in Ariandor. Bertran was proclaimed a hero, and one week later was crowned the first Merchant-King of Ariandor. While Ariandor was now a kingdom united under a hero king, its villages remained remote and isolated. Rebuilding the destruction of the last two years would not be an easy task. Soon graceful bronze dragons were seen raiding the cattle herds of Owenglen, travel at night was still dangerous with the rimsghouls on the prowl, and the order of the world had been restored. It was the brightest time in mankind's history, but there was a dark and sinister shadow lurking a few years down the road.
It was near Owenglen that the first Dragon Lord was seen. At first, the townspeople dismissed the incredible story of the young shepherd. A dragon being ridden by a man was a sight beyond sanity. Soon, the story had been confirmed by a dozen upstanding citizens. Had the universe betrayed its eldest citizen? Some hold that the Lost Elves had undergone a transformation due to a magical mishap and conquered the dragons in a frenzied need for transportation. Other historians claim that the dragons sought the help of the Lords of Chaos in order to save their dying race. The great flying beasts and their strange riders became a common sight in the daytime skies. The Dragon Lords seemed to hold the same aversion to human contact as their flying mounts. The mysterious riders would circle safely in the skies spying on the humans far below. Their purpose and history remain a mystery until this day.
The Merchant's Guild
It was soon after the appearance of the Dragon Lords that the Merchant's Guild was formed. In the beginning, the organization was a simple traveling caravan formed by several wealthy merchants from Boughlake and Black Lake (known today as Dragon's Hollow). Travel by road was still very dangerous, with attacks by rimsghouls, ogres, hill giants, and the like still common. It seemed that the Merchant's Guild enjoyed some mystical protection from the evil powers afoot in the world. As time passed, travel on the roads became more and more dominated by the large merchant caverns. Some say that this phenomena was due to the fact that individual merchants no longer needed to travel to sell their wares and goods. Others say that the Merchant's Guild was in league with the sinister forces of evil. What can be said is that the guild became more powerful and more secretive. Whispers of assassinations and treachery could be heard echoing in the stone corridors of the Guild Hall in Boughlake. Today, the Merchant's Guild holds almost complete power over the denizens of Ariandor with a grip of corrupt terror and greed.
And so it was at the beginning of the tenth century (as men reckon time) that the universe had betrayed the old races and completed a familiar injustice. The sentient may perceive and love the universe, but the universe cannot perceive and love the sentient. The universe recognizes no distinction between the multitude of creatures and elements which comprise it. All are equal. None is favored. The universe, equipped with nothing but the materials and the power of creation, continues to create: something of this, something of that. It cannot control what it creates, and it cannot, it seems, be controlled by its creations. Those who curse the workings of the universe curse that which is deaf. Those who strike out at those workings fight that which is inviolate. Those who shake their fists, shake their fists at blind stars.
It is now the time Hereward the Third, Merchant-King of Ariandor. It is now the middle of the thirteenth century (as men reckon time in Ariandor) - 833 TA by Realm Reckoning, and tales of the Dragon War are more folklore than history. Some would say that little has changed in the last three hundred and fifty years, and some would argue that the world bears only a slight resemblance to that simpler and freer time.
The time of Hereward the Third is marked by a geography quite similar to that of his grandfather, Hereward the First, Usurper of the Badge of the Merchant-Kings. There are twelve human villages which circle the the great pit of Lywam-an-Esh. These villages range in size from a handful of people to the large sprawling streets of the capital city of Boughlake. Travel between the villages is limited to the Guildsmen that carry a badge of authority. The badges are reported to be magical warding devices that keep the rimsghouls and Dragon Lords at bay. Whatever the case, survival on the roads of Ariandor without a Merchant's Badge is difficult at best. A number of small taverns and inns do exist outside the confines of the twelve villages. Almost all of these establishments are sanctioned by the Guild, and most are within a day's ride of a town. And so it has happened that the Merchant's Guild is a source of communication, food, clothing, raw materials, and wealth to those who are loyal to its laws. But woe to he that falls from the good graces of the Guild. Executions, extortion, and assassinations are common for those who pry into the secret affairs of this most mysterious of organizations. For three hundred years, the sprawling labyrinthine maze of the Guild Hall has been the final resting place for many a spy and traitor.
Deep within the branches of Lywam-an-Esh dwell the ancient elven people. The elves share the outer reaches of the branches with the humans. However, most elves shun contact with the barbaric humans whose minds are as limited as their lifespans. Periodically, an elven trader will appear in Boughlake to trade their fine wares for human supplies. For the most part, however, there is very little contact between the two races, and the secrets of this mystical and ancient race remain intact. As for the other elder races, it is said that an agreement between the rimsghouls, Dragon Lords, and Merchant's Guild was formed many centuries ago. The exact terms of that strange pact are still the subject of drunken gossip around the pubs of Ariandor. And so ends this brief history of the land known as the Netherworld.
The Villages of Ariandor
Officially, the land known as Ariandor is a collection of a dozen independent villages and towns. Each of these villages has its own set of laws and is run by a Lord Mayor or Council of Elders. The villages collect taxes from both its citizens and travelers moving along the road that circles the great pit. However, in the city of Boughlake lies the Hall of the Merchant's Guild. It is the Guild that controls the roads, it is the Guild that controls the flow of goods to and from the towns, it is the Guild that controls communication between villages, and it is the Guild that controls Ariandor. The master of this powerful organization is Hereward the Third, who calls himself the Merchant-King of Ariandor. Hereward is the grandson of Hereward the Usurper and the seventy-second head of that most powerful of organizations. It is said that Hereward stole the Merchant's badge during an assassination of Brassund the Web-Fingered almost fifty years ago.
There are many rumors about the mysterious badges of the Merchant's Guild. Some say that they are magical warding devices that keep all enemies away, and thus allow the caravans to travel unmolested. In any case, they are a token to be highly prized. The Guild has several strongholds outside of Boughlake. Each of these strongholds is charged with keeping a certain area of Ariandor safe for the caravans of goods. In the southwest, there is Mardon the Red, a cruel and twisted man whose stronghold in the pass near Derthford is well known. In the southeast, the stronghold of Gaston Silverhand lies near the ruins of the Sylvan Glade. It is said that Gaston is obsessed with power and knowledge, and that he is in league with a number of witches and soothsayers that provide him with an endless stream of information. The north is run by Hartwig the Horrible, a huge giant with a crystal ring that gives him a great intelligence. Rumor holds that Hartwig lives in a stone castle in the hills outside of Ardenwood surrounded by a circle of mages and wizards. It is doubtless that other Guild strongholds exist around the great pit of Lywam-an-Esh, and that there are many spies that collect information for the gold that the Guild Masters spread so freely.
The village of Greycliff perches precariously on the edge of the great pit. This site has been occupied by humans since the Suel invasion, as it marked the limit of that race's penetration into Oeridian territory. Despite its harsh climate, the fertile plains nearby have long been graced with herds of deer and other woodland animals. Before the arrival of man, the area surrounding Greycliff was home to a very large population of hill giants and ogres, some of which remain in the broken mountains to the north of the city. With the arrival of the Suel, cattle and domesticated animals were introduced to the area. Even today, the villagers of Greycliff are primarily farmers and ranchers, a simple people of mixed Oeridian and Suel ancestory. Of the town's shops, the smithy of Jaxel Farrain is famous throughout Ariandor for excellent chainmail and intricate ornamental armor. It is rumored that a staff of fear was lost in the village several months ago when it was mistakenly got made into a broom.
On the edge of the pit, Dunkettle Castle stands in much the same condition as it did during the Dragon Wars. Located on the top of a small grassy hillock, the castle is home to the sorceress Reva. The mayor of the town, Barstow the Bitter, once a renowned Knight of the Order of the Hart, is said to have lost the castle to the wizardress in a card game of questionable honesty. Whatever the truth, the reclusive Reva has turned Dunkettle Castle into a place shunned by the peasants and honest folk of Greycliff. Only the mysterious caravans of the Merchant's Caravan stop by the black stone walls of Reva's stronghold. Rumored to be a Temple of the Spider God of Wealth, Reva is said to make bloody sacrifices of animals and worse to her hideous diety. Many strange happenings and disappearances are attributed to Reva and her demon companions in that dark castle on the hillock overlooking Greycliff.
In a hilly valley surrounded by the ranges of the Craghorn Mountains, there lies a fortress known as the Obsidian Citadel that is inhabited and ruled by a particularly ferocious storm giant known as Gnorl Haghunka. He rules several hundred personal servants and slaves made up of orcs, zombies, and the cauldron-born. He prefers solitude and slays all visitors, while his servants raise crops and mine semi-precious stones. The slick black citadel tower and other obsidian bulwarks have a long and checkered history lost in antiquity. The interiors are stark but many riches are well hidden throughout the corridors, rooms, chambers, tunnels, stairs, caverns, and pits. A prophesy of long past says that an eagle king will free the tower of its evil curses and start it on a long age of standing for good.
Owenglen lies at the northern end of the Dismal Swamp near the Pass of Baklunish. The modern village lies atop the ruins of the oldest of the Suel cities in Ariandor, the subterranean passages of which are said to be inhabited by a secret cult of the Lords of Chaos. It is said that the cult is a training ground for the Assassin's Guild of Boughlake, an organization that has been rumored to be closely tied to the Merchant's Guild for many years. Despite its sinister reputation, Owenglen appears to a casual observer as a small peaceful village. The mayor is Jenkin the Foolish, the rather slow grandson of the adventurer Jenkin the Bold. The elder Jenkin organized an expedition through the Pass of Baklunish to look for lost treasures of the Suel Empire. After the expedition departed, no word was ever heard from them again. It is rumored that strange lights have been eminating from the great pit during stormy nights recently. The Black Star Tavern sports a crystal ball of questionable reliability and a shepherd's pie of unquestionable excellence.
To the northwest of the village lie fertile grazing lands populated by the huge flocks of sheep and goats that provide Owenglen merchants with wool from which their fine cloth is made. It is said that every month on the full moon a werewolf of gigantic proportions cuts through the countryside, killing sheep and ripping the throats from unwary shepherds and villagers. Rumor holds that this werewolf is a manifestation of the evil elven wizard, Grenbarith, who was hung on the night of the full moon three hundred years earlier. To the southwest of the village lies the Dismal Swamp, the most treacherous and forsaken land in Ariandor. Used as an exile for murderers, cutthroats, and brigands for hundreds of years, the moors around Owenglen are sometimes known as the Bloody Thicket. Only the Merchant's caravan seems to be impervious to the highwaymen that frequent the roads in the area.
Near Owenglen lies a small woods that is not exactly swamp but is usually mushy. These woods, known as the Hallhaven, is known for its vermin, snakes, leeches, and slimy critters that writhe in the mud. Thick vapor rises from the mud rocks, and there is little grass except for tough swamp grass and pampas. The trees are mostly soft woods and kinky. The rocks are said to move, and bones, pottery bits, and an occasional piece of crystal lie half buried in the mud.
Several hundred years ago, a small pub, known as the Green Hole Inn, was built on the present site of Briar Forest as a resting place for travelers making the dangerous journey along the eastern edge of the Dismal Swamp. The first proprietor, Janvel the Hangman, was reported to sell pardons to those journeying to Owenglen. For those unfortunate enough to be caught by brigands on the road through the swamp, the pardons could be used to buy safe passage. It is doubtful Janvel's pardons worked very often, for the road between Briar Forest and Owenglen is still known as Dead Man's Walk. Around the Green Hole Inn, the present town of Briar Forest emerged. The small hamlet of Briar Forest lies at the southern end of the Dismal Swamp some thirty miles to the east of Brimstone Mountain and ten miles north of the ruins of Eagol Castle. The present day village lies in small wooded valley near the edge of the pit. Among the notable shops in Briar Forest is the wine cellar of one Otton Bushem, a wine maker and collector of great renown. It is said that Otton's shop is the first stop of most travelers to the area. An ancient vine covered cemetery lies at the northern end of the town. Long abandoned, recently rumors have surfaced that a pack of twenty werewolves, forced by spell still holding from a long-deceased evil priest, are guarding his tomb in the entangled graveyard. To the west lies the Dismal Swamp and the smoking volcanic ruins of Brimstone Mountain. Few travelers and no villagers venture into that god-forsaken part of Ariandor.
At the time of the Suel invasion, Eagol Castle was a strategic military fortress protecting vital supply lines for the Imperial armies. A small village sprung up around the castle, and a thriving trading bizarre was established. The castle and village were destroyed by a plague in the early years of the Dragon Wars, and a degenerate type of wayward dwarf now haunts the ruins of the once proud castle. Nameless, at least to outsiders, they sneak through rubble and underground passages full of contaminated waste. Hideously deformed, these "Eagols" have developed their powers of telepathy to reach over large distances between their own kind. Their skin is poisonous to touch, and the creatures are quite unpredictable. The once great source of power that controlled the wonders of the Aouatad Temple, though long thought lost, is rumored to be still intact and protected by the Eagols. Historians claim that this weapon is based on telekinetic principles and can cause great destruction. It is also believed that diamonds of great value can be found littering the lower reaches of the Eagol Ruins.
Perhaps the most remote mountain area of Ariandor is that which surrounds the village of Derthford. This small hamlet is inhabited by a group of miners who foray each day against the ever present threat of hill giants into the mines south of town. The mines of Derthford provide almost all of the ore and precious metals for Ariandor, and the village is home to a number of jewelers and gemcutters. Among its notable shops is the Severed Hand, run by an old hag by the name of Tessa, which deals in strange and mysterious curiosities. It is rumored that Tessa has a collection glass pyramids that is unequaled in the land.
Far to the southwest of Derthford are the Abbotstorm Mountains which are known for their terrible storms. These mountains are dangerous country rumored where druids and medusae live. The druids manage in such poor company by competent and intelligent shapechanging for protection. The gifts of communication with plants and animals are helpful here, also. The druids are difficult to find, and their most holy of meeting places, Druid's Hold, is thought to contain vast treasures. Large black dogs with huge whirling red eyes roam in packs protecting the ancient gathering places, magical stone circles, and long burrows in the valleys of the Abbotstorm Mountains. Some historians report that silvery fires seen at night in this area are said to show the location of buried treasure. Others contend that strange lights are merely manifestations of great evil, and the discovery of hell hound lairs nearby seem to justify this claim.
To the southwest of the town is a single pass through the Abbotstorm Mountains. This pass runs away from the pit and into a valley of small mounds and hills. It is said that the Merchant's Caravan often travels through the pass to the stronghold of Mardon the Red. The land beyond Mardon's castle is rumored to be the haven of fairies and sprites, and it is generally avoided by sane adventurers. Within the valley lies the Cave of Strangers, rumored to be hidden from all by a powerful mage. Periodically, disoriented wanderers stumble from the valley (usually into the greedy clutches of Mardon). It seems that there are many tales of a great jungle lying beyond the Cave of Strangers, but rumor holds that one must have the good graces of the fairies and sprites.
Carendell Castle is an ancient stronghold designed by the Oeridians as the first line of defense against the Suel attackers. It is now a way station on the Merchant's Road around the great pit of Lywam-an-Esh. The fortress' moat is river fed and the sheer curtain walls rising out of it are formidable indeed. Surrounded by dangerous forest, travelers are most relieved to reach the inner courts of Carendell. Trolls have recently been terrifying the village and surrounding environs, and an expedition to discover their lair has been delayed for lack of volunteers. The mayor, Provost Jost, runs the outpost by the book, and food and supplies are carefully measured. Of course, they live in comfort while most of the help live spartan lives. The one pleasure in Carendell is a large inn, The Sandy Sword, where friend and traveler are met, gossip exchanged, and good times had. The innkeeper, one Langhorn Burwright, leads and encourages the merrymaking with his crazy stories. The men of Carendell are mostly foresters, braving trolls and spiders, cutting down hardwood trees which are finished and sold to the Merchant's Guild for other supplies and valuables. Recently, a puzzling poem on an old piece parchment was discovered inside a wall that was under repair.
Surrounding Carendell is the Dankbark Forest, known for its lairs of five foot spiders who sometimes drop silver sticky webs over an entire Merchant's caravan. The spiders are said to collect silver objects of all types in their lairs (coins, armors, and the like). The smell that is pervasive throughout Dankbark is the poisonous reek moss on the northern side of the forest trees. The forest is known for its fine hardwoods and abandoned spider lairs (with overlooked and abandoned silver in them). Legend holds that living in the hollowed out trees in a strange grove of large walnut trees, called Raknid, are several families of spider elves, a strange leggy variety not unlike wood elves except they lack a love for the woods and can spin webs. They may protect travelers from the spiders, but they may not. Also within the Dankbark Forest is the rare bortagurm snake, the shedded skin of which is known to heal almost all sicknesses.
This small village sits atop the ancient site of the Oeridian stronghold of Jebli, the foundation of which can still be seen in certain parts of the town and surrounding areas. Nothing is left of the old fortress except a single tower which has been boarded up for years. Maldonbridge is perched on a large stone rampart that cuts across the southwestern corner of the pit. Because of the mountainous terrain in the surrounding areas, all travel along the Merchant's Path comes through Maldonbridge. Living on such a rocky precipice, the soil is very thin and there is no good land for planting or raising animals. The villagers of Maldonbridge are chiefly artisans and craftsmen, making pottery, jewelry, and the like which they trade with the merchant caravans for raw materials, food, and clothing.
The history of Maldonbridge streches back to the arrival of the first Oeridians through the caverns beneath the Crystalmist Mountains. The entrance to these ancient caves has been lost in antiquity, but a few mages and wandering minstrels claim to have knowledge to their whereabouts. What can be said is that the first settlement on this site was a powerful fortress and the capital city of the Oeridians. During the Dragon Wars, there was a great battle at Maldonbridge. It is said that several hundred Oeridian mages and warriors along with hundreds of Flannish mercenaries downed three of the great bronze beasts. One of which crashed headlong into the bridge southwest of the city creating a large cavern, the Dragon's Grave, which remains a visible attraction even to this day. But alas, the city was leveled by a score of dragons, all of the male inhabitants were killed, and the site lay unoccupied for almost a hundred years.
Several hundred years ago, the Merchant's Guild built a small village on the bridge as a stopping point for their caravan. The present day village is a collection of nearly two score of shops and a number of small houses and ancillary buildings housing nearly one hundred humans. The mayor of the town is one Anselm Castellian, a short rotund man who dresses in the finest green silk which markedly contrasts his bright red face. Anselm is a jolly man, given to drink and food, who is well liked throughout the community. Maldonbridge pottery and stoneware can be found at the finer establishments throughout Ariandor, and the White Egg Tavern is said to serve a wonderful pint of bitters. There is a rumor of a valuable treasure map in the leg of a table somewhere in the city, and the forgotten library of Harkarim is thought to be buried nearby.
The eastern edge of the pit is known for an abundance of orcs, and Drearoost sits in the middle of this territory. The village is nestled in the bailey of the old castle of High Jeblinc. The curtain walls of that old Oeridian stronghold have been repaired to hold off the hostile creatures that lurk in the forests and hills nearby. The only building in the original structure that remains intact is a small keep which houses the Chapel of the Sky, run by Abbot Conlan of the Speckled Wand. Travelers should be warned that a heavy tolls are charged to pass through the gates into the city. Once there, it is rumored that a quick pint at the Astronomer's Barrel Alehouse will prove enjoyable. It is said that the magical dagger of Duranthus-Dur was recently unearthed in an underground crypt beneath the Chapel of the Sky.
Far to the west of the village lies Glass Mountain which could just as well be called Orc Mountain because the slopes of the mountain teams with them. Orcs are not especially good miners, but they are greedy. The uncut diamonds are traded with thieves, brigands, shifty-eyed traders, and, some say, with the Merchant's Guild. Gakbog directs the mining activities and reportedly has many sentry patrols around the mountain. A curious statue carved out of an obsidian peak in the mountain of an unknown being is protected by the orcs. Lights play about the statue on dark nights and the shape seems to have changed after such luminescent displays. There is a legend about a princess who sat on top of Glass Mountain a long time ago waiting for a prince to claim her. A prince did come, so the story goes, riding on a horse made of diamonds. But the princess became greedy and struck the horse to shatter it, but the diamonds sank into the Glass Mountain top as though it were mud. The prince was said to have turned into a hideous orc and eaten the princess. Her bleached bones still lie in the morning sun at the top of Glass Mountain, untouched by the centuries.
Below the mountain lies Crystal Lake, an area infested with orcs as they use the beautiful mountain lake for relaxation. The lake is a clear pure blue and contains no unsavory creatures. The fish are large and tasty, the scenery idyllic and access difficult. Orcs are said to throw small stones into the lake to make wishes. Goat heads embellishing the ends of long earth-embedded poles surround the lake every fifty feet. On the southern beach is a well-known temple in partial ruin with an intact large marble lizardman idol in the central room. Rumor holds that it has two huge ruby eyes still extant with the power to disintegrate anything that comes within fifty feet. Rumor also holds that the skeletons of many orcs and men lay inside the central room.
The village of Elfin Cross lies at the northern end of the Wolfherder's Range where the southernmost branches of Lywam-an-Esh touch the rim of Ariandor. The small hamlet lies in a small protected valley at the southern end of the Dragonsback Hills. The plain contains little but grasses, furze, heather, and an occasional copse of wildwood, while the hills are mostly the home of thieves and brigands. Few humans venture onto the branches of the great tree from Elfin Cross, for it is said that Elsenwood (the area northwest of the town) is tightly controlled by the elves and remains wild and primitive. The elves have their ways, and any troublesome mage just might find himself dancing in the forest for hundreds of years.
Elfin Cross boasts a number of shops and buildings quietly nestled in a lush green valley. The town is run by Willock the Stern, a steady and forceful mayor. More interesting than the mayor is his assistant, who carries out orders exactly, but who also has a few little private plans of his own on his superior's job and dastardly ideas for amassing a private fortune. His ruby sword sweats blood whenever an aggressive and powerful character is nearby. Rumor holds that the blood is actually a powerful poison. A palindir mirror is in the mayor's hall shows what is taking place in all the other town halls in Ariandor. This device is used mainly for amusement but occasionally more.
South of the village lies a small grassy hillock, known as the Crown Knoll. It is said that four crowns enriched with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and other precious gems and perhaps the bones of some ancient giant kings lie beneath the turf. Strange voices, invisible horses, and the cries of slaves can be heard often in the area and most nearby inhabitants are afraid of it. Plunderers attempting to dig in the mound are often found later hacked to pieces. One legend not often spoken says that the four kings buried here were slain centuries ago, and they will remain restless until they can effect revenge. They merely keep in military practice and await the Keeper of the Gardens to set them free.
Further beyond the Crown Knoll lies the vine covered earthen mounds hide most of the Hayward ruins, but rumor holds that two entrances to tunnels below ground exist. One is said to be a magical door in the rock-hewn, domed pillar that rises from the middle of the mounds; the other is said to be a small earthen tunnel opening under a large bush.
The site of the modern town of Dragon's Hollow is perhaps the oldest human settlement in Ariandor. The Flans that moved through the Kendeen Pass found the cool clear waters and protective hills a natural settling place. There are no Flannish ruins, since that race constructed no permanent dwellings, but legend holds that a great hunting lodge was built on that site long before the arrival of either the Oeridians or Suel. In the times before the Dragon War, the great merchant Bertran the Bold built a stronghold on the site, later to be known as Black Lake. About his stronghold, Bertran constructed a sprawling city filled with shops, bazaars, and taverns. Black Lake was the center of the trading routes of Ariandor, and Bertran was, without a doubt, the richest and most powerful man in the land. It was Bertran himself that led the first attacks against the dragons. In the last days of the Dragon War, Black Lake was destroyed by a group of eight bronze dragons. After the war, the center of trade shifted to Boughlake, and although Bertran ordered his old home rebuilt, Black Lake (thereafter known as Dragon's Hollow) was never the trading mecca it once was. The present-day town is still housed within the protective walls of the old bailey, and (because of its distance from the pit) it does not suffer the constant attacks from the rimsghouls. The hills and low mountains in the surrounding area are famous for the mountain sheep which provide the warmest wool available and is quite valuable. They are also hard to catch and shear, almost impossible to tame, and much less numerous than their domesticated counterparts.
Two rivers feed the lakes that surround Dragon's Hollow. The rivers are fast, rocky, deep, and narrow. The Tessell Spout is a spray of water that shoots up fifty feet into the air due to the force of both rives coming together and the rock formations there. Caves along the river provide shelter for travelers, hideouts for brigands, and valuables for treasure hunters.
To the north of the city lies the lair of Dahmen, a huge, intelligent, and evil snake who rules over a den of poisonous spitting adders. It is said that Dahmen can squeeze plate armor until it collapses and mesmerize with a single glance. Dahmen's favorite sustenance is men, although he will attack any living thing if hungry. The local villagers know that his feedings are roughly one month apart.
Pictenmoor is a large town of disreputable character and unseemly habits where smuggling and thievery are said to run rampant. Most of the villagers are poor, but in the noble's area, large stone houses are well decorated and fortified. The town has no outer fortifications, but it does have a good spy system (and an underground cavern system for a fast escape). Lockwood the Slippery runs the town, and he is a strong fighter with a sly streak. He is said to enjoy riding about the countryside, and his treatment of horses is notably better than his treatment of his servants.
In the center of the town is the Temple of Tears, a shrine made of black polished marble as smooth as glass. It has a grand hall hung with silken tapestries, discreet alcoves with sofas covered with the softest furs. Verandas, porches, fountains surrounded by flower gardens and shrubs all grace the central court in which stands a solid gold obelisk. A beautiful enchantress lies in state in the viewing room and great wealth is said to be due any who break the enchantment (of course, that may not be wise) that holds her in deep sleep.
To the north of Pictenmoor lies the ruins of Jumbleweed, the Mad God's Sanctuary. Beyond Jumbleweed lies the entrance to the Kendeen Pass (through which the Flans migrated), destroyed in antiquity by the wizard Celbit. It is said that the great dragon Tien once visited a cave near the Kendeen Pass. What transpired during that visit is unknown, but treasure hunters have long sought that fabled cavern.
To the southwest of Pictenmoor runs a long narrow range of the Dragonsback Hills having a steep cliff on their northwest sides with land that is practically barren. The land seems cursed and has a long undesirable history as bad luck regularly falls upon the people here. Bitter Ridge majors is terrible deaths, lost loves, failed dreams, rekindled hates, and foiled plans. Even, Falsumanador, a black dragon who lives in the ridge, has a terribly paltry heap of treasure upon which to rest. A caped phantom, known as the Lost Rider, gallops through the hills and mountains causing much mischief. Some think that the Lost Rider is connected to the Barradine Ruins, the road to which is treacherous with bandits. The ruins themselves are said to be filled with restless ghosts of departed heroes, undesirables, and evil demons.
It is said that a village or fortress has sat nestled between the small stream and protective hills and trees of Ardenwood since the earliest times of the Flannish and Oeridian migrations. This quiet hamlet is located in the northern area of the rim near the Plain of Marik that centuries before saw the clash of the Oeridian armies against the imperial Suel legions. Ardenwood boasts some of the finest herds of cattle and fields of grain to be found anywhere in Ariandor. The town is presently without a leader, the previous mayor mysteriously disappeared after the last visit by the Merchant's Guild. The town is built around the Temple of Jillian, a small but devout shrine to a local saint.
For it is said that hidden in the caves and pits amid the wilderlands north of Ardenwood lived demons of great size and loathsome habit, who preyed on the local villagers with weapons of magic. It was told of one such creature that he stole a maiden on the eve of her wedding and kept her for his own amusement, visiting her when the appetite seized him. At length, he killed her horribly, first cutting off her hands and feet, then striking off her head. As a final stroke of cruelty, he changed her human lover into a troll. It took magic to defeat the power of these demons. A young woman, Jillian, skilled in sorcery recognized the troll for the human he truly was, and, knowing the cause of the man's plight, she summoned the demon with chanted commands that he could not refuse. Then Jillian and the demon fought with spells. They fought in the shapes of lion and serpent, of eagle and wolf, of scorpion and vulture. At last, they fought as flame, each of them wreathed in tongues of fire, and Jillian, calling aloud the name of her god, was the victor, and the demon was burned to ashes. At the demon's death, the man was restored to his rightful form. But the magical fire that had empowered the sorceress was too great for her human body to endure. Her battle won, she expired in her own flame.
Ardenwood is also known for a fabulous beast with a gem encrusted hide. The monster holds many magical powers and it is said that the six tentacles on its head heal all manner of diseases. The lizard-like creature has multi-faceted eyes and is about the size of an alligator. It is generally harmless, but adventurers tell of the creature exuding a poisonous gas and breathing fire when trapped. Needless to say, the monster has never been brought to the village, but the locals love to tell tales of the beast they affectionately call Mona over a cold brew at the Flaming Baron Tavern.
Boughlake is the largest and most prosperous city in Ariandor. Located on the branches of Lywam-an-Esh, it is also one of the newest cities being built in the early years after the Dragon War. There were two reasons for Boughlake's rise to power. The first was the destruction of Black Lake near the end of the Dragon War and the need to establish a new center of economic trade. Also, the site where Boughlake now stands was the first peaceful meeting place between the humans of Ariandor and the elves of Lywam-an-Esh. It was here that the elven traders would meet with their human counterparts to exchange goods. It is said that only a handful of privileged merchants have been allowed to pass through the eastern gate of Boughlake into the elven reaches of the great tree.
Boughlake is unique in many other ways from other human cities. It is constructed on a series of interwoven branches said to be almost a league thick in places. On top of the lattice of branches, is a giant wooden platform that creates a solid "foundation" for the cobblestone streets and buildings of this amazing city. The streets are small and twisted in a strange Byzantine fashion. In the city center lies the massive Merchant's Guildhall, a labyrinthine maze of hallways, rooms, and corridors perched high upon a solid stone bulwark. It is quite possible that the Guildhall is the largest structure in all of Ariandor (excluding, perhaps, the destroyed halls of Dragonscrest). The Guildhall is run by the Merchant King of Ariandor, Hereward the Third. Little is known of this mysterious figure, as he never ventures out of the protective walls of his secluded castle. It is said that a secret tunnel system runs beneath the city, providing an effective spy network as well as escape routes for the highest leaders of the Guild.
Around the bulwark of the Merchant's Guildhall lies a number of temples and ancillary buildings. Rumor holds that many of these structures have secret passages into the Guildhall where clandestine meetings shape the destiny of the land. The Temple of the Mindarrow is typical of the religious orders that have flourished in the city. It is said that an average of two hundred monks study and meditate here, use the extensive library of science, metaphysics, and history. A complicated doorway entry system discourages visitors: iron gates, a portcullis, a magical shield of power, a formidable gatekeeper, and an associate master of the temple. The monks burn incense for their souls around the outside of the iron fence, and their master is said to know a counteraction for every spell that can be cast. Mysterious gnosophims (small winged serpents) can be seen on the temple grounds, but their powers and purpose are unknown. A number of other temples can be found throughout the city.
Perched against the southern wall of the Merchant's Guild lies a very plain building, a small set of stone stairs lead up to a large wooden door, bound in iron, with a single chain hanging to one side. Pulling that chain is thought to be the most dangerous action that any man can take, for within the door lies the Assassin's Guild, commonly known as the Mord Wraiths. Their motives are secret, their membership is secret, but their danger is legendary. Little can be known for sure about the Assassin's Guild, and most villagers would prefer not to know any more than that.
In the maze of streets and alleys there are a number of interesting haunts and curiosities. Even though the ale is cheap and the food terrible, the Dragon's Eye Inn is a tourist attraction and does a steady business. The inn is small and rustic and the many buxom young waitresses keep the atmosphere pleasant. Almost any game of chance can be found in the cozy rooms of the Dragon's Eye Inn, but the main attraction is the dragon's eye on the pedestal in the center of the main room. All who dare may ask a boon of it while staring at the huge crystal sphere. Many a wish has been granted, but sometimes a great harm has fallen upon the requester. It is said that anything can be found in the shops that litter the streets of the city. Just recently, a traveler reported that the Dragon Boots of Tien were for sale at the Snake Pit Cellar, an unsavory dive in the poorer section of town.
Three gates lead through the massive wall that surrounds the city. The northern, or Traveller's Gate, is a huge portcullis system that requires half a dozen men to operate. A toll is charged of all visitors entering the city, although it is rare for a stranger to be turned away. Movement along the road from Traveller's Gate to Pictenmoor is safe for the most part, as the road is kept in good repair (by the unlucky prisoners of the Guild) and well patrolled by the Hereward's elite guards. The southern, or Merchant's Gate, lies nearest the strange Guildhall, and it is from this portal that the large caravans come and go. This portcullis is always guarded by a score of tight-lipped guards. It is said that a Mord Wraith is always lurking somewhere nearby. The third exit from Boughlake is the small eastern, or Elven Gate, resembling more a door in the great outer wall than a gate. Just outside the Elven Gate lie a pile of human bones, trespassers brought back by the elves as a reminder to adventurous humans to consider carefully their travel plans into elven territory. Other dangers lurk for those who wander from the trodden paths of the branches of Lywam-an-Esh. While tell-tale brown patches warn clever travelers of perilous conditions, many a wanderer has been lost into a vine covered pit or hole.
Places of Interest
- Asylum of Celbit
- Brimstone Mountain
- Cave of the Elder Gods
- Caves of Youth
- Dungeon of the Darkling
- Eagol Ruins
- Hall of the Giant King
- Hayward Ruins
- Rift of Grugnor
- River of the Dead
- Sylvan Glades
- Temple of Midris Rah
- Temple of the Moondragon Root
- Woodbury, Ancient House of Learning
The Spider Pits
The misty woods of the Dankbark Forest have always been a place of fear for humans. Had it not been for the great pit of Lywam-an-Esh to the north and the impassible Abbotstorm Mountains to the south, it is doubtful whether the forest would have ever been breached, and the stretch of road that runs through this forest is one of the most dangerous in Ariandor. It is rumored that any traveler even whispering upon the trail will be heard in the lair of the spider queen, Memordia. In the days before man's arrival, Memordia would lie in her sticky mass of tangled webs (some say they are the size of a small village) and send vibrations and images telepathically to creatures in the forest. Drawn as if by some magical conjuration, the denizens of the forest would stumble into her pit and be devoured. Many an early traveler to the Dankbark Forest would wander into the thicket of woods and disappear. It was the famous alchemist Jonholder of the Flask that discovered a secret antidote to the spider queen's summoning. By mixing the roots and berries of several rare plants with the powdered brains of a giant spider, he was able to distill a foul-tasting liquid which would render the drinker immune to Memordia's calling. This remedy was used for years while the village of Carendell was being constructed, and it is still part of the regular diet of the local townspeople. Calling the drink "spider juice", it is made in several shops in the village.
In the northern reaches of the forest in a place where man seldom trods, lies Memordia's pit, a fouler place cannot be found within the reaches of Dankbark Forest. Recently, there have been strange rumors from this isolated grove. It is said that Memordia is dying, her powers draining from a lack of human flesh. A woodsman came screaming into town several months ago, froth bubbling from his lips, and he told a tale of a huge glistening demon. The creature, he said, towered twelve feet tall, his head adorned with horns, and a barbed tail swinging from his grotesquely distorted features. Around the demon, a number of formless and fleshless creatures circled, as if awaiting an order from their master. The demon was speaking to a creature with the torso and legs of a giant spider and the head and chest of a beautiful dark-haired woman. The woodsman swore that he had seen Memordia herself. Nearby, a silent figure stood. Of human size and shape, the figure was dressed in the garb of a druid. Before he could move, the human figure turned towards him and waved a hand. A sense of death swept over the woodsman, and he ran (at this point the woodsman breaks down into hysterical laughter). This story would have been dismissed by the townsfolk of Carendell had it not been for the unusually high number of spider attacks in the recent months and the discovery of some tracks near town that matched the woodsman's description of the demon perfectly.
The Monestary of Tanngrisner
Nestled away in a difficult-to-find valley among the rugged hills south of where the Merchant's Path leaves the land bridge, there lives a short, stocky, grizzled old monk with salt and pepper hair and a full beard named Tanngrisner. His enterprise is large, and he has many monks working for him making special blends of teas from roots, stems, bark, leaves, flowers and berries of shrubs, trees, and herbs of common and exotic varieties. The monks are all short like their leader, wear brown cowled robes and seldom speak. The sashes around their waists are interwoven hemp, gold, and sweet smelling spices. Monsters seem to shy away from this strange company. Nevertheless, persistent problem visitors will find themselves waking from a drug-induced sleep leagues away and confused as to directions for two weeks. It is said that animals keep the monks appraised of approaching visitors, and harmony with nature is the rule here. Tannigrisner tea is sold in beautifully decorated tins and ranges in price from several silver pieces to hundreds of gold pieces. It is said that Tannigrisner holds knowledge to the location of the Dagger of Tien, although the monk refuses to discuss this. Tanngrisner is very intelligent, friendly, hospitable (a one night stay is all that is allowed, however), and unlike the other monks, a good conversationalist. Herbalists are welcome visitors and may stay longer periods of time.
The Valley Of Demons
To the north and west of Maldonbridge lies the Valley of Demons. There are no habitation in the valley or other visible structures. The beautiful meadows and small copses of trees make an idyllic setting but the large crag of a rock in the middle of the valley is rumored to be actually a doorway to the underworld. It is said that demons, ghouls, and balrogs on rare occasions meet here for unmentionable activities as well as using the Black Gate for passage between the worlds. At the eastern end of this strange valley lies Iso Lake. Iso is a strange creature of (it seems) hundreds of long tentacles, slimy and suction-padded, but no one has ever seen its body. Birds and animals avoid the lake, preferring the forests to the north. Rumor has it that Iso has been known to snare an errant low-flying dragon from the air or lure animal prey through a sort of humming vibration that is most attractive and curious. There are plenty of fish in the lake, and two paths lead around this legendary water hazard and into the Valley of Demons. At the eastern end of this valley lies Yahg Khosha, an extremely rough country of brambles, ravines, clefts and caves of rock, large craggy hills, and loose rubble. Yahg Khosha is the ancient home of the balrogs. There are many here, it is said, following the commands of an evil high priest, but few return from the Valley of Demons to collaborate the stories.
A strange man lives in a wood to the north of the Valley of Demons. He is called the Old Man of the Wood and he is very dangerous. Sometimes appearing as a helpless lost child, sometimes as a gaunt, fainted young girl, but usually as a withered up old beggar. The old man feigns need of help and when someone turns to offer assistance, he turns the person into a tree. He can also immobilize an entire party in time and turn them into trees gradually.
A little ways upstream of the valley, a beautiful awe-inspiring water falls reflects the morning sun on a rock which is an unseen door to wealth and treasures belonging to a once famous powerful magician. A large plain crystal shrine reflects a beam of light once a year on the door to illuminate the opening device. It is said that water from the pool of the Stay Falls that touches the shrine will heal the sick and injured. It is also said that the legendary yellow ibis has been seen drinking from the pool.
Little is known of the mysterious giant eagles of Ariandor. Legends tell of their existence from the earliest of times. When the land was the home of dragons and elves and the infant mankind had not made his first step, the eagles circled high in the sky around the great pit of Lywam-an-Esh. For the most part, the eagles lived quietly in their stone castle, Stonegate (known to men as Eagle's Hold), high in the mountains west of Dragon's Hollow. From their clandestine beginnings, the eagles have been the source of many legends and lore. The eagles have but one deity, Duranthus Dur, God of the Winds. Duranthus Dur is said to have come to the eagles in the form of a young man, wearing a feather headdress, ceremonial wings, and carrying a magical dagger. He passed on great wisdom to those noble winged creatures before turning into the wind itself leaving behind both his words and his relics.
It was in the early days of the Dragon War that a foolish band of humans dared venture to Eagle's Hold to steal the relics of Duranthus Dur. Using a magical flaming chariot, the thieves made off with the three items persued by a host of eagle warriors. It was somewhere over the great pit of Lywam-an-Esh that the chariot was capsized, spilling the artifacts of the eagle-god over the branches of the great tree. While the thieves had stolen the artifacts of Duranthus Dur, the ceremony to summon the god lay safe in a large leather bound tome safely stored in the library at Eagle's Hold. Rumors to the location of the three artifacts of the eagles have surfaced at various times in history, although it is known that the eagles would pay dearly to recover their stolen property.
The Festering Pool
In the branches of the great tree Lywam-an-Esh to the west of the human village of Boughlake lies a place that even the elves shun. Itirm-Duk, or the Festering Pool, has bubbled from a massive knothole where a forty foot diameter branch juts from the surrounding foliage twists in a vulgar unnatural way and plunges back beneath the forest floor like the gnarled elbow of a ancient giant. Surrounding the pool are a number of small depressions, each filled with the vile black tar that oozes from the wound in the great tree. It is said that on the night of the full moon strange music and the voices can be heard coming from the Festering Pool, and the denizens of the forest do not sleep easily. Rumor holds that this blight of nature is a holy shrine of the wood mites, a strange race of intelligent bugs that live within the fleshy wood of Lywam-an-Esh. There are many legends about these mysterious creatures, but to this day their purpose and motives remain unknown.
And so it was on a full moon several years ago that a young wizard’s apprentice from Boughlake sought to take some bubbling tar from the Festering Pit on the eve of the full moon, an ingredient for a special potion he thought would charm the wood mites and please his master. Armed with several sturdy crystal flasks and a sword that could cut with both ice and flame, the young man set off shortly after dark. By the time that he reached the Festering Pool, the moonlit ceremony was in full swing. Demons and goblins danced around the pool and black lights shot into the night sky enhancing the evil grins of the possessed dancers. The young wizard could see several dark forms in the pool itself, although the shadows and mad frenzy of dancers made it impossible to make out details. Whether the youth was brave or foolish is a matter of opinion. Without a moment’s hesitation, he drew his sword and began to advance. The music stopped and all eyes turned towards the young wizard. His blazing sword felled three of the goblins with fire and two of the smaller demons with ice before the youth felt his head begin to spin. He woke up several hours later in the sanctuary of his master’s shop. It seems that his ward had the good sense to keep an eye on the boy with his crystal ball, and, at the appropriate time, to teleport his apprentice to safety. Needless to say, the young mage would develop many a blister from chopping wood and carrying water before his master would consider his foolishness forgiven.
The Eyes of the Water Maiden
There are many beautiful and serene lakes in the high hills surrounding the village of Dragon’s Hollow, and many a wealthy merchant has taken a holiday on the shores of these clear mountain pools. There are four pools, in particular, that seem favored by all who visit the area. Each is almost perfectly round, for they are believed to be formed by spring water filling an ancient crater formed when the gods of old battled and the sky was thrown down upon mortals who disobeyed their dieties. These round ponds are almost unnatural for they are formed in the shape of a shamrock with four leaves, a plant which can be found in abundance nearby. The lush meadows that lead up to the lakes are green and filled with wildlife, and there is a sense of peace in the air. It is said that this area is protected by a powerful druid who has set aside these lakes and meadows as a sanctuary against all evil. However, after several weeks in the area, most visitors have an overpowering longing to leave the meadows and return home. As if by a magical spell, they depart, rested and renewed by the healing power of nature. On two occassions, there has been violence in the sanctuary near the lake. Almost instantly, the skies turn black and a storm begins to howl, and from the lake comes a beautiful maiden dressed in the softest white gown. Only her glowing red eyes betray the anger in her continence, as all who gaze upon her are frozen, unable to move. The water maiden deals a harsh justice, and those few who have broken her rules have paid the price. Several are now fish swimming the peaceful lakes, and the others are frogs, gently croaking on the sandy banks.
The Wastelands of the Scorpions
A territory of unknown extent exists beyond Pass of Baklunish, east of the Craghorn Mountains. This bleak desert is called the Wastelands of the Scorpions, the former Empire of the Suel Imperium. History tells us that this was once a fair and fertile realm extending a thousand miles eastward and northward. The merciless and haughty rulers engaged in a struggle for dominance and supremacy over all of the Netherworld. And in return for their ruthless attacks against the Oeridians, the Suel lands were inundated by a nearly invisible fiery rain which killed all creatures it struck, burned all living things, ignited the landscape with colorless flame, and burned the very hill themselves into ash. Whatever the truth of this, the place is certainly a desert today, an endless vista of dust and fine ash in gentle rises and shallow valleys which resemble waves in the ocean. This aspect is far less picturesque when the winds howl and tear the surface into choking clouds which strip flesh from bone and rise to the sky, making vision impossible and life hazardous in the extreme. Added to this unwholesome environment are rains of volcanic ash and cinders which are blown from the Hellfurnances in the north dropping upon the forsaken lands that were once an empire of terrible might. Legends tell of strange ruins near the feet of the mountains, and say that somewhere in the central fastness there still stands the remains, nearly intact, of what is called the Forgotten City, lost capital of the Suel empire.
There are a few mountain tribesmen in the Pass of Baklunish, who reportedly venture into the Wastelands of the Scorpions now and again to obtain treasure from the remains of the cities and towns buried under the dust. The truth of these tales can not be established, but there is no doubt that there are peoples who dwell within the fastness of the mountain pass. Somewhat similar fables tell of an expedition from Owenglen to find and bring back the loot left in the Forgotten City. If such an expedition ever was organized and left upon the journey, no news of its return has ever been had. This latter tale, though, caused the Merchant's Guild to attempt exploration of the Pass of Baklunish, and reliable reports tell of at least one party returning from such a trek, decimated by half, but bearing strange art objects and jewelry back from their explorations in the fringes of the Wastelands.
The Ice World of Gnarth
Another land of unknown extent exists southwest beyond the Crystalmist Mountains. The frigid ice world known as Gnarth was once the lush plains of the Oeridian homeland. The Oeridians were a noble people dominated by magic and chivalry. It is said that a great commerce was established between the Azure Sea in the west and the Crystalmist Mountains in the east. The land was prosperous and its people content.
Legend has it that the Fhoi Myore arrived on the western shores during the winter and did not make their presence known. Then, when spring did not come in those parts, people began to investigate the causes. The Fhoi Myore are seven misshapen giants, two of which are female. And they have strange powers, controlling forces of nature, beasts and, perhaps, even demons. Some say they came from across the sea, from a great mysterious continent of which little was known, a continent now bereft of life and entirely covered by snow. Others say that they come from beneath the sea itself, from a land where only they can live. Both these lands were called by the Oeridian ancestors Anwyn, but it is not thought that this is a Fhoi Myore name. The Fhoi Myore extended their rule until now the whole of Gnarth has become their undisputed domain. First came the Hounds of Kerenos, then came the Fhoi Myore. The Fhoi Myore do not make war as the Oeridians once made war. It was the Oeridian way to choose champions from the ranks of contesting armies. Those champions would fight for us, man to man, matching skills until one was beaten. Then his life would be spared if he had not sustained bad injuries from his fight. Often no weapons at all would be used. Bard would match bard, composing satires against their enemies until the best satirist sent the other slinking away in shame. But the Fhoi Myore had no such notion of battle when they came against the Oeridians. That is why they were defeated so easily. The Fhoi Myore want death - crave for death - follow death - cry after him to turn and face them. The Fhoi Myore moved slowly and surely in their poorly constructed wicker carts, their forms blurred by the icy fog that followed the Cold Folk. In three years, the Oeridians were driven completely out of Gnarth, through the caverns beneath the Crystalmist Mountains, and into the lands of Ariandor. It is said that the Fhoi Myore feared only three things, the three artifacts of the Oeridian people: a spear, a chalise, and a staff. But, those ancient treasures were lost in the times before the first kings of Gnarth were crowned. For twelve hundred years, the caverns have been sealed by some great Oeridian magic, and the Fhoi Myore have remained in their icy kingdom.
The Evertangle Forest
Little is known of this vast deciduous forest, as its human denizens, the Flans, did not possess a system of writing until long after they reached Ariandor. As a result, all that is known of the area beyond the Kendeen Pass is that which has been passed down by oral tradition. Legend holds that the land known as the Evertangle Forest was a beautiful rolling countryside, filled with clear spring-fed lakes and roaring cold rivers. The forest was nestled between two ridges of impassable mountains, the Hoary Peaks in the north and the Crystalmist Mountains in the south. The forest was populated by a small number of clans of hunters and rangers living in small isolated communities. The clans would build temporary villages of wood and mud, staying only as long as the wild game was bountiful. The highest virtue among the Flan's was loyalty to one's clan, and the greatest dishonor was to be exiled. War between the clans did not exist, and a group of tribal elders resolved conflicts over hunting grounds, wild game, and the like. There was a sense of competition between the different groups of Flannish hunters, and every year on the midsummer's day, each clan would select their finest warriors to compete in a test of skill. The three strongest warriors in the Evertangle Forest would then be bound by a code of honor to undertake a great quest, usually to seek some magical creature or the treasure of some distant monster. The last three expeditions had taken across the great lake in search of the gold of the gulon, a gluttonous carrion-feeder whose fur had a mottled, damask quality prized in hat making. The last three expeditions had not returned.
And so the champions of the game, Kendeen, Salwyn, and Kian, decided to brave their worst fears and seek a magical ring of wishes which would bring bountiful game to the forest for years to come. Now, the Flans were a simple people, and their greatest fear was of fairy magic. Deep in the southern mountain range lay a shimmering waterfall of the clearest mountain water. The Fairy Falls was a place shunned by the Flans for it was the stronghold of the Fairy King Tam Lin. The three champions set forth to find the falls and the magical ring that lay behind it. Along the way, the trio met an old hag who instructed them how to make a magical ointment that would render them invisible to the fairies. Legend tells that Kendeen, Salwyn, and Kian slew a basilisk, and using its blood made the potion according to old woman's instructions. The invisible adventurers journeyed to the falls and made three great discoveries. First, the ointment worked just as the hag had predicted. Second, behind the falls lay a great pass through the mountains (later to be known as the Kendeen Pass). On the sheer cliff walls of the pass, hundreds of fairies lived in small caves and swam in the clear mountain water. Third, the party found the magical ring of wishes. But Kendeen was so overcome by greed that he slipped the ring on his finger and disappeared down the pass into Ariandor. Upon their return, Salwyn and Kian formed the first of many expeditions to Ariandor to find Kendeen. They did not find their magical ring, but they did find lush forests and herds of fattened deer. Many small groups of Flans traveled the Kendeen Pass until it was destroyed by Celbit, and the secrets of the Evertangle Forest were sealed forever.
The Lands Below The Rim
Below the rim of the great pit in the darkness lies the realm of the Dark Elves, Rimsghouls, and Lords of Chaos. Little is known of this gloomy kingdom. It is said that the small ledges and caves line the sheer walls of the pit are home to giant bats, carrion crawlers, gargoyles, wyvern, otyugh, and other denizens of the dark. The ancient burial tombs of the lich Tertafeld-Ak can be found somewhere in that sunless world. At the bottom of the pit lies the muddy bowels of the earth, legendary home of the massive purple worms. It is said that the souls of the dead roam those dreary bogs in search of a way out of their horrible prison.
It is said that the Dark Elves and Rabindranath built a great city of darkness below the pit after they were banished from the branches of Lywam-an-Esh. Now their descendants live in the almost blind world of darkness and filth. A number of disappearances have been blamed on the Dark Elves throughout the years, but their existence remains a mystery. Even more strange is the home of the Lords of Chaos, evil beings who were summoned during the Wealsun War to protect the elves. It is said that these creatures spend very little time in their temple near the base of Lywam-an-Esh, preferring to roam the multiverse in search of adventure. The Lords of Chaos are said to be the masters of the rimsghouls, foul creatures of the air that circle the pit in search of human food each night. Adventurers tell of their uncanny ability to smell their prey from leagues away. Disappearing in the early rays of morning, the rimsghouls can exude sticky webs to encase their food for future consumption or they can send out paralyzing vibrations and dine on fresh meat.
The Lands Above The Rim
It is said that three hundred years ago, there occurred a strange bonding between the two ancient races of Ariandor. Rumor holds that the Lost Elves were dying. The experiments of the brilliant Beylard and his followers were to gain the elves lifespans ten times their normal range, but instead it inflicted them to a terrible degenerating disease. Their nature became as twisted as their bodies, and soon they sought out the dragons for their slaves. How the dragons were made the servants of the Lost Elves is unknown. In fact, some historians claim that the mysterious Dragon Lords are not the Lost Elves at all, but rather they are demons that were summoned by a miscast spell. Whichever the case, it is now held that the dragons are merely mounts for these strange masters. It is said that the dragons have not spoken since the arrival of the Dragon Lords, and some hold that their masters have somehow stolen their voices and their minds. Even the dragon's young are cared for by a strange race of humans (elves?) known as the dragon folk. This strange symbiotic relationship is even more curious because their human (elven?) riders have taken the names and history of their mounts. The Dragon Lords have come to respect the wishes of the Merchant's Guild, although the mystery of that pact lies buried in the vaults of the Guild Hall in Boughlake for brave adventurers to uncover.
Legends of the Netherworld
The Three Witches of Marmon Mist
Experts at shapechanging, all three witches (called Marmon collectively) can take on any appearance, but the most often appear as hags. The Marmon consider themselves outside moral alignments, are incredibly ancient, and are touchy about their privacy - they keep the swamp supplied with frogs. The long hut is their lair where they do a lot of spinning; strange occult objects, herbs and containers line the walls. Several other huts contain magical items of great power. Intruders seldom leave like they came unless they have great power of have something of great magical value to trade. The Marmon are well aware of the happenings in the nearby towns of Dragon's Hollow and Pictenmoor but don't care one way or the other. Chail is the leader of the three and is the most creative; Phyth is the most unstable and prefers to molest or eat intruders; Gaedd is a steadying influence and helps them keep a low profile.
Roderic of the Ring
It is said in the days of the Dragon Wars that Roderic went seeking a certain country that he had heard about from his fellow warriors. Some say that Roderic was banned from Bertran's castle for some foolish deed involving the king's daughter. In a summer month, he rode north from Bertran the Bold's castle at Black Lake. For many days he travelled through high mountains, eventually reaching a border region where an uncharted forest swept into the distance as far as the eyes could see. He found a castle in this borderland, as his companions had said he would, and there kindly strangers greeted him and feasted him. Finally, they sent him away on a track that led into the forest's depths. In the heart of the wood was an old god, a giant creature, dark as night. The god stood on a single leg, regarding the intruder coldly. His antlered head brushed against the tree branches. When he called, the animals of the wood streamed into the clearing, clustering in the grass at his feet and bowing their heads to the ground. In the face of such power, Roderic bowed too. Then he asked the god where he might find adventure - as if this were not adventure enough. The god's eyes crinkled with laughter at the man's presumption. But he spoke. He told Roderic where he must ride and what he would find there, and Roderic left him.
The knight followed a track through the forest to a sunny valley where a single tree towered, spreading enormous, sheltering branches all around. In this tree's shade stood a stone fountain. On the fountain, fastened with a silver chain, a silver bowl lay. As the god had bidden him, Roderic leaned from his horse, drew water from the fountain using the silver bowl, and then poured it out. Among the surrounding woods, thunder rolled. The sky darkened. The wind howled, and borne on its fury came a volley of hail, clattering against the shield Roderic raised above his head and bouncing thick and white as stars upon the grass. Man and horse braced silently in the gale and waited. The fury ended as suddenly as it had begun. All the leaves of the great tree had fallen; above Roderic's head on the now-bare branches, bright-colored birds sang to greet the returning sun.
Roderic had no time to listen to their singing, however. A warrior rushed down from the forested slope of the valley. He was the guardian of the fountain, armed all in black and mounted on a black charger, and his lance was at the ready, its tip leveled at Roderic's heart. The young man had time only to swing his horse around and lower his own lance into position before his enemy was upon him. The force of the impact broke both warriors' spears and knocked the men to the ground. After a stunned moment, they rose and drew their swords. Back and forth under the bare branches of the tree they fought, wielding their broadswords with strong, skilled hands, grunting with each swing of the heavy blades and each impact of steel on shield-leather or mail. The fight was slow and brutal, and after a while the warriors could hardly lift their arms. Roderic was the victor in the end. He found an opening and, with a last mighty effort, brought his blade down upon the black knight's helm. The metal cracked; scarlet blood spurted over it and mantled the knight's shoulders. With a cry, the man turned, stumbled to his horse, and, swaying in the saddle, fled.
In the moments it took for Roderic to mount, the black knight disappeared into the woods fringing the valley. Roderic continud in persuit, however. His horse pounded through the woods and out the other side. Ahead, the black horse, with its broken rider, raced across long water meadows, sending up flocks of startled fowl, toward a walled and towered city that crowned a slope far in the distance. The city gates were open. The black knight, with Roderic now close behind, made for them. The knight gained the outer gate and disappeared through a second gate in the city's inner curtain wall. Roderic galloped through the outer portal, but as he passed under the arch, the iron portcullises in both gates crashed to the ground. The spikes of the outer gates stabbed through the horse's back, and the animal crumpled, screaming. Roderic rolled free. He was trapped in the narrow strip of land between the two sheer walls. On the far side of the inner gate, a road lined with houses and thronged with shouting people swept into the city. A hundred hands reached up to ease the black knight from his horse. Roderic leaned against the stones of the wall and stared though the bars. His gaze was returned from the other side by a fair young maiden robed in white.
"Is it you who wounded the guardian?" she said in the softest of voices.
"I am the one," he replied. "If yon black knight is he."
"The people will turn on you in a moment. Take this ring now and hold it so that the stone is turned into your hand. It will hide you from them. When they raise the gate, come to me where I stand on yonder horse block. Put your hand on my shoulder to tell me you are there, and I will lead you to refuge."
"Lady, why should you do this?"
"The slayer of the guardian becomes the new guardian," said the lady. "My task is to set you in the black knight's place."
All happened as the young maiden had said. The mob turned towards the gate where Roderic stood beside the broken body of his horse. Screaming, they drew up the inner portcullis and surged into Roderic's prison. But they could not see him as the ring protected him. He walked through the jostling throng, but avoided the young maiden. In those few moments, he decided to use the ring for his own personal gain. His invisibility would allow him to reek revenge on Bertran, the king who had banished him from Ariandor. Later that day, the gates of the city were again opened, and Roderic slunk away from the funeral procession that was forming in the courtyard of the castle.
It is said that Roderic returned to Ariandor. It was a few days before Roderic would have stood outside the gates of Bertan's castle, and a strange woman rode into his camp. She called Roderic a traitor for deceiving her. Then she vanished. Some storytellers say that the visitation drove him mad with remorse. He left his quest and wandered the desolate mountains, wraithlike and wild, living among the beasts, carrying only the magical ring for protection. There have been many tales of travellers encountering Roderic of the Ring in the northern mountains of Ariandor. Some say that he is a madman, some say that he rescues those in trouble, but all of them end with the estranged knight disappearing into thin air.
The Elder Gods
Historians generally agree that the strange beings known as the Elder Gods are aliens from a land beyond Ariandor. What is known of the Elder Gods has been passed down in tales from the elves and the dragons, for those mysterious beings disappeared into the pit long before the arrival of the first humans into Ariandor. It is said that in the days while the dragons and elves were infant races on the face of the world, a great magical battle took place in the skies of Ariandor. On one side of this strange conflict were a host of humans riding in flaming chariots and casting magical beams of blue and red, while their foes were a handful of powerful creatures with a variety of shapes and sizes, from a large formless tentacled black creature to a small airy sprite. Night did not fall in Ariandor for many days as the light and fire from the battle glowed brightly over the branches of Lywam-an-Esh. Finally, the strange beasts known as the Elder Gods fled for the bowels of the great pit, closely followed by their human foes. It is said that the Elder Gods lost that battle and remain forever trapped in a dungeon far below the surface of Ariandor.
Adventures in the Netherworld
In December 833 TA, an adventure to the Netherworld was undertaken by Hylax, Ernest Goodfellow, Vince the Invincible, Falstaff, U-Gene, and Fuzzwort.
The objective was to find and open a chamber holding the Elder Gods. This chamber was located at the base of the great tree Lywam-An-Esh. By opening the chamber, the party will cause the destruction of the Netherworld and the source of Baradar's great power (the Excaliber). While this wouldn't kill Baradar, it would make (and the other Navigators) mortal. Failure to open the prison would allow evil to rule the land.
There were several parties interested in opening the gateway: the Druids of Oakentree and the Rangers of the Wilderlands.
The Collegium Magicium and the followers of King Gregory wanted to study the options before opening the gateway.
This action was opposed by the Brotherhood of Sevel and the followers of the Navigators (who would become mortal).
Baradar realized the party was attempting to find the Cave of the Elder Gods. This was discovered by a scrying device placed in the World's End Pub by Sirfexx Ivancevio. Sirfexx and Baradar constructed the Dungeon of the Darkling (at a very great cost) in order to thwart the party. The defense of the cave was placed in the hands of Foultooth (Giant Raves and Loremaster of the Thirteenth Covenant). Foultooth brought the demons of the Thirteenth Covenant with him to the Jungle of the Moondragon Root in order to destroy the party.
Pyramids of Teleportation
The distances in the Netherworld were vast - well beyond the abilities of normal teleport spells. While magical movement along the Rim was possible, movement between the different levels of the Excaliber required extraordinary means. With an ultimate goal to reach the Dungeon of the Darkling and the Cave of the Elder Gods at the base of Lywam-An-Esh, there were six possible ways to accomplish the task:
- Summon the eagle-god, Duranthus Dur, to take the party down. This required four items:
- A priest from Eagle's Hold to perform the ceremony.
- The eagle-feather headdress (Rimsghouls)
- Dagger (Rift of Grugnor)
- Ceremonial wings (Samantha)
- Gather the articles of the dragon-king, Tien, to transform a party member to take the rest down. This required five items:
- Dragon Helmet (Brimstone Mountain)
- Dragon Belt & Scabbard (Monastery)
- Dragon Sword (Jumbleweed)
- Dragon Boots (Boughlake)
- Dragon Cloak (Woodbury)
- Passage from the woodmites allowing travel through the trunk down to the "bowels". This required five items:
- Raise the village of Boughlake
- Steal the Crown of the Dark Elves (Eagol Ruins)
- Steal the Scepter of the Lost Elves
- Steal the Ring of the Tree Elves
- Scroll of passage to woodmites
- Teleport to the Dungeon of the Darkling via the Pyramids
- Gain the magical flute of the Lords of Chaos from the elves
- Flying ship of Irith
While some of these artifacts were gathered during the adventures, the party focused much of their time on collecting teleportation pyramids. Their workings were partially understood.
|A pyramid can be activated or dormant. When it is activated, it is a clear crystal which glows. When it is dormant, the pyramid is wooden. The pyramid is dormant until the following occur:
In the case of pyramids that are already found carved in the wooden state, it can be assumed that one rune is already drawn somewhere. Once activated, the pyramid may be pressed twice. The first time, the party will teleport to the first rune. The second time, the party will teleport to the second rune. After the second teleport, that side of the pyramid will become blackened and useless. There are a number of questions concerning the pyramid that remain unanswered, but we have resolved to see where the adventure leads us. Since the beginning of our adventure, we have encountered several teleportation pyramids. The disposition of these is noted below:
Cube of Armageddon
The Cube of Armageddon was found by U-Gene in the Netherworld. It was a simple one-use device. When activated, everything within 100 mile radius is placed in a 50-year stasis - keeping all within safe for that time period. After which, the "contents" of the globe would teleport to a nearby safe haven and the spell would end. The Cube was activated in late 833 TA when the Cave of the Elder Gods was opened - destroying the Netherworld. Although the party was saved by this action, they arrived back in the Realm in 883 TA to a world greatly changed by their actions.
Final Transmission: Self-Destruct Sequence Initiated
It is 19110 PC (Pellum Calendar) or 833 TA (as accounted by the locals of Pendar). A most dire situation has occurred. The Elder Gods have been released from the prison level. We are unsure how this was accomplished. While our original forty crew have not aged in the past 3500 years, as you know, several members have been lost to accidents as described in my previous reports. Since we have been unable to reproduce with any of the species of this world, our numbers are diminished. Unfortunately, our understanding of these strange creatures, the Elder Gods, is still nascent. It is now clear that they possess the power to take over the Excaliber. They might even be able to use the ship to reach Pellum during the upcoming perigee. As per security protocol, I have initiated the self-destruct sequence for the ship. The remaining crew will teleport to the planet. Wish us well. The dangers of the Elder Gods should not be underestimated. My recommendation is for no future contact with this world. Captain out.