“When the Red Moon rises and blooms a bright blood sky, Ashyara, the Lady of Death and most revered Dark Goddess, will walk amongst the garden of graves to watch over the honoured dead.”
Surrounded by tall, stone watchtowers that burn the endless white green fire of hallowed flame and guarded by those condemned by law to watch over the dead stands the City of Graves, commonly known as Gravegarden, in the Lochlands amongst the lands of winter. Here lie the bodies of a hundred Kings, a thousand Lords and over a hundred thousand soldiers and warriors who have fought and died for their brothers, their sisters, their homeland and their crown. No place in the entire northern realm of men is more venerated and respected by all than this sacred place.
The surface of the city contains grave stones beyond counting circling around a central settlement that houses the Temple of Ashyara, the living quarters of its priests, the barracks of those who took a vow to watch over the deceased and a large stone wall that has runic depictions and markings of the gods and the fallen carved into it. These markings were carved by the blind in tribute to the Goddess of Death and it is here by this wall that pilgrims and worshippers of Ashyara pay tribute. Not with coins, gems or jewellery but with food, drink and clothing so that those who have pledged their lives to guard the dead may continue to sustain themselves without the need to beg the Crown for support. Despite this the Crown and the Court still send wagons of supplies to ensure those who dwell here are never left wanting.
Below the surface there are crypts and tombs beyond thousands. One can walk for several weeks in the dark of the depths of the departed and never see its end. It is very easy to become lost despite the many fires that burn eternal in these halls of stone. These tunnels have become both sanctuary and a death sentence to thieves and murderers who think it is a good place to hide from the Winter Court as they attempt to avoid judgement for what they have done.
Any man, woman or child that are found guilty of murder or the wilful desecration of the dead by the Court of Winter have a difficult choice. They may choose the axe of the executioner, a single shield to trek into the Highlands to battle the ogres of the north until they fall or a lifetime of service to the City of Graves where they will guard the dead until their last day by taking the Covenant of Ashyara.
“So what fate do you choose, prisoner, for your crimes against the crown of Wintermere and its people. Do you choose the Shield, the Axe or the Covenant?” – The words spoken by the Court to those condemned to die or to serve those who are already dead.
The Covenant of Ashyara is an oath of blood and a vow before the Lady of Death to give their remaining days in service to her so that they may walk amongst the garden of graves until their own life is spent. Those who take this scared vow are known as the Sentinels of Ashyara. It is rumoured in Wintermere that some of these sentinels still remain after their deaths to walk the garden and tend the dead, bound to servitude by magiks wielded by those priests that have been long lost to common knowledge. Even the Arch Magisters from the Citadel of the Aeons in Amberfall have been unable to verify the truth of this matter despite their extensive knowledge and power over magik.
“Forever watchful, forever faithful, we give our lives and our blood in eternal service to the Lady of Death.” – The words that are spoken by those who bind their lives to the Covenant.
A vigil to Lady Death lies at the heart of the city within her shrine. It is perpetually tended to by the priests of the Goddess, blind men and women who have voluntarily given up their sight so that they may see only the visions of the departed. Here there burns a permanent flame that is kept alight by these priests through the use of coal and hallowed fire, a type of pyromancy that is unique to users of magiks that have tapped into the veil of the Hallowed Realm. It differs from common fire in that it burns bright green and white and it is capable of turning those who cannot control or combat its intensity into ash within mere seconds. The ashes left behind by such magiks are as white as falling snow.
The Winter Court have gone to war with the ogres of the north on many occasions throughout the ages, such is the ferocity of their hatred for one another. The ogres have managed to invade the lands beyond the Grey Wolds at certain vulnerable points in history. This includes the northern holdings and villages of the Lochlands in their attempts to conquer their neighbours and have wrought death and destruction with each challenge, even managing to take Wintermere for a single day before they were driven away by one last desperate counter assault. However, the one place the ogres have never attacked nor endeavoured to claim is the City of Graves. In their barbaric simplicity they understand what this place represents and that it is the burial ground of those who have perished in war. The ogres know and respect this and thus have vowed to leave it untouched for all time should they ever succeed in taking these lands for themselves. The men of the Lochlands and the ogres of the Highlands share this trait in common, they both share a desire to bury their dead and have a venerable respect for lost family and their ancestors of the past.
Here in the City of Graves all men are equal for no Lord or King has dominion over the dead. No ruler of the realm may ever take from this sacred place, whether in the form of provisions or the lives of those who live and guard here, or they will become accursed in the eyes of the gods. All who visit here bow down to her dominion and respect the will of the Lady of Death.