The Woeful Tower

‘Impure and wretched are the cursed who walk amongst us. Pity not their fate for it has been decreed by Altyr when he spoke to his vanguard Daryan that they bear an unforgivable taint. May the pure and dawning light of the One God wash over them in death for the blight of magick, a wicked conception cast upon us by false gods, dwells deep within them. May He have mercy on them, for we cannot.

Let it be known, now and forever, that they who carry the taint, they who harbour this sin and they who forgive this curse – there is no sanctuary for you. You will be sought, you will be found and you will be Judged.’  – the teachings of Godrik Gatekeeper, Grand Minister of High Kairon.

It is well known throughout the lands of Ayl’gard that to be mageborn in Hammarkand is almost like living with a death sentence. Those born Aeon blessed within the borders of the Altyran Empire are shunned, exiled, hunted and slain not only for what they are but also for what they may become. History tells of countless tales of mages driven mad with grief, vengeance or a lust for power that have gone on to wreak excruciating havoc upon the lives of those afflicted by their will. One particularly dark account involving a uniquely gifted mage tells of the destruction of an ancient city, that of Duskholm, after an unsuccessful attempt to control his shadow magicks failed in the most devastating way. The ruins of that once glorious testament of the prowess of the Mithylfar lie buried deep underneath the city of Amberfall and its legacy is now almost entirely forgotten.

To wield magicks within the borders of the Empire is forbidden. To offer safety and give harbour to a magick user within the borders of the Empire is forbidden. To express any sentiment or pursue any action that doesn’t follow the laws written and passed down by the first Emperor Daryan, the Vanguard of the One God, to the very letter is, without a shadow of a doubt, completely forbidden.

For a mother to look upon her child and see that faint wisp of fire flicker from nothing or to feel the sudden shudder of an unnatural breeze, it can stir incomparable emotions of despair and sorrow. Should they hide away and flee for the safety of another shore so that she can see her child blossom into what they were intended to become? Or does she rid herself of such an unnatural abomination? That of a cursed child born with an unforgivable impurity whose only true fate by law is to be ridden from society. In the eyes of many dutiful citizens of the Empire, it is considered to be a worthy sacrifice in the eyes of the One god to rid the world of magicks in all forms for magick is a curse, the dark blight of a civilisation striving for purity. Even if the end result is the death of an innocent.

But what of those who live? What becomes of one born with the ability to wield magick who has escaped the watchful eyes of a nation led to believe that their mere existence is an affront to their beliefs?

As previously mentioned, some lucky few might escape north across the sea and flee to Sollistar or Ayrlaston. To have the opportunity to study and practice their craft in the gardens of the Aetherian Academy or the halls of the Aeon Citadel, it is a chance to lead a life free of persecution and fearing for simple being alive. A chance to bring some value and distinction to a life once thought damned.

Others, even fewer in number, will attempt to suppress their power in the hopes of living a ‘normal’ life. Though what sense of normality can be gained from constantly looking over their shoulder as they try to have an almost statuesque reaction to all they come into contact with is a debate best left to the unfortunate few who have had to deal with such things. For a hidden magick wielder to give into the whims of potent emotion, it could unintentionally reveal what they have strived to hide their whole life.

There are those however, who have managed to cling to life and yet have not had the chance to keep hold of their free will. They see only dark walls and iron chains and hear only the screams of the damned or the words of their captors. To the east of the city fortress of High Kairon, a hundred hours away by foot and shrouded in the mists of a vast lake at the centre of bleak, empty moorlands stretching for miles is a solitary tower built upon a foundation of blood and stone. It is known as the Woeful Tower to the few who are aware of it. There are no roads that lead to its doors and Imperial law forbids its location to be noted on any map. Even the Minister of its closest town has been heavily bribed with women, wine and gold to be completely ignorant of its existence. It also helps that he is the second cousin to a high seated Council member of the Imperial Circle. A fact he never shuts up about either, to the annoyance of his subjects.

Its original name, along with its purpose, has been long forgotten. There are some who say that it predates the arrival of Daryan and his followers onto the shores of Valleden and the complex stonework, that no mason of the Empire can replicate, certainly seems to indicate such a perspective. An Emperor who lived over a century ago, known as Uthor the Boastful, once proclaimed it to be the stronghold of the First Mage, a wicked and corrupt man who conjured the very demons from the Hollow Plane to reap his will upon the ancient inhabitants of a civilisation long dead. Though he also once tried to have the wine imported from Solharbour decreed as ‘red piss water tainted by the hands of the unfaithful’ so there are many who have dismissed this claim, amongst others, as the fiction of a thoughtless leader.

Whatever the original intent of the tower though, now it has a darker purpose. It has, over the ages, held countless individuals condemned as cursed by the Ministers of Altyr and the Imperial Circle where only those considered to have very little magickal aptitude are permitted to reside. The Judges of the Sworn Order are sent to scour the Empire in search of any impurity, those deemed unworthy in the eyes of the One god, such as mages in particular. Most who are encountered and are then actually powerful enough to have put up a fight are put to death right there and then. Some however are considered so inept and pitiful as to be considered worthy of redemption. They are sent to the Woeful Tower to live out their days in darkness and silence, to be cleansed of their corruption until the day they are deemed fit to re-join their fellow man in the service of Altyr.

For the outside observer, to be cleansed in this place is thought to be a cruel and unjust fate. A mage who dwells here is starved, beaten, tortured and their skin is routinely burnt until it resembles the ashen grey colour of a Dothylfar. Once the Wardens have decreed someone to have been salvaged, which is a rare circumstance as most who suffer the misfortune of dwelling in this place have a high chance of succumbing to their cleansing, they have their tongues cut out and their fingers removed. Once the prospect of their magicks returning has been utterly eliminated, they are sent to serve in one of the many Cathedrals dotted around Hammarkand where they shall live out the remainder of their days to live and to serve the Empire and their god, Altyr.

If they are finally able to leave such a torrid existence, they are given a name befitting the status of what remains of their life. They become known as one of the Cleansed. To see someone such as this serving in the midst of a sermon to the people, it rarely elicits any sentiment of pity or remorse to the countless followers of Altyr. They see it as an example of the power of an Empire driven to rid their lands of the scourge of magick and also a testament to the will of their god. A deity who has seen fit to bestow upon his chosen the responsibility of such acts to ensure a pure and just society, all according the will and the words set down by the Emperor and the Imperial Circle leading all the way back to the foundations of the Altyran Empire under the rule of Daryan.

So, you may be wondering, what becomes of those who do not survive the ordeal? What happens if, after years of suffering at the hands of the Woeful Wardens, the only way to escape such a life is to simply give up and perish? Underneath the tower is a vast network of caverns and tunnels where the remains of thousands who have died here have been discarded over the centuries. Nigh countless broken bodies and the decrepit remnants of lives extinguished remain scattered and piled in what is considered to be the largest mass grave ever formed in the history of Ayl’gard. So few are those who know of it yet so many are they who lie dead and buried, entombed in darkness and forgotten by history. All to rid an Empire of magick.

The Grey Wolds

The Ogres, or O’kr as they call themselves in their own basic way, of the Highlands that dwell in the north of the Lands of Winter are a savage, bestial and unrelenting race of hunters. They live for the chase, strive for the prize and seek their prey with an excitable thirst for blood and honour. To the Ogres, the races of men and Ayl’far are nothing but game to be hunted and exterminated, as the pathetic and weak vermin that they are, should they ever dare to cross into their tribal territories.

To the south, in the Lochlands, the humans are a proud, stubborn and wary folk who have no trust for their southern cousins in the kingdom of Ayrlaston and would like nothing better than to see the very extinction of their barbaric neighbours to the north. Like the O’kr, they seek to claim all of the Winter Lands for themselves and the King and his Winter Court would relish the opportunity to settle the land so that they might hunt for bison meat and excavate their vast mines of iron and coal.

So why do they not wage war with each other? Why have there been no large battles fought over land and resources to decide who the true masters of the Winter Lands truly are – once and for all? The Ogres are savage, merciless masters of the hunt and the humans are fearful, resourceful warriors and explorers and they are no strangers to war. And yet they have stood apart since the first bloody meeting between the two centuries ago with no major incursions into each other’s territories.

The very reason is a simple one and a source of great frustration to both races. It is because of the wild, hostile hills and high grounds of the Grey Wolds. As it is normally coated in a sea of fog that merges seamlessly with its tall, dark green forests, it is a truly intimidating prospect for any traveller and one that separates the Highlands from the Lochlands for miles and miles all the way from the eastern shores to the western Silent Sea. Also known as the ‘Great’ Wolds, this region is peppered with powerful blizzards so cold and chilling that even one of the stoutest men from the city of Wintermere, and these are some very large men, covered in thick furs from head to foot would freeze to death in mere minutes if he had the misfortune to become lost traversing one of the few weather worn trails that lead into this area. The winds blow fierce and fowl with a vicious howl as if one hundred wolves were mocking your presence there all at the same time. These bitter sharp gales can cut the flesh of an unwary Ogre whose dark furred and grey/green skin is thought to be so thick that any normal stone tipped arrow would just bounce off with but the slightest graze.

When the veil of blizzards and cold winter storms actually subside, any who venture far enough, and if they are lucky, may see large herds of mastodons roaming the region with little fear of being hunted for these periods of uneasy calm do not last long. Any hunter who does return home with the hide of a mastodon on his back is considered a hero amongst men or an unrivalled beast master of the Ogres. Whilst the human may charge a small fortune for his or her prize and have a good story to tell in the tavern, their Ogre counterpart can have their claim of many sexual partners, any reward of drink, feasting and fire and is considered worthy of the absolute leadership of their own tribe. Almost every tribal leader, they would come to earn the title of Kol, in the city of Tyrak and the Highlands has killed at least one mastodon and usually sits on a throne carved from its skull and horns and wears its hide as a coat of nigh unmatched distinction.

The northern line of the Lochlands before the Grey Wolds is littered with outposts and watchtowers that have some of the regions finest scouts and archers guarding the land every day and every night, looking out for stray wolves, maybe the odd elk that has drifted too far from safety and outlaws on the run. The most terrifying prospect though for anyone who carries the duty of a border guard is, on the very rare occasion that they have managed to cross over, a band of bestial, blood drunk, ale fuelled and battle hardened Ogres looking for a fight and a fresh kill. Every now and then the most determined seekers of treasures and glory make it across, at least those who have survived the passing which tends to number only ten or fewer, looking to murder, pillage and plunder the bountiful lands of their southern foe.

The southern border of the Highlands tells a far more savage story. Lit by endless fire so that the shadows of fear can taunt and terrify as they dance for miles around, there are hundreds of massive rock formations depicting large visages of monstrous stone monuments of their mightiest ancestors as a tribute to their fallen kin. The O’kr tribes revere and refer to this as their Aegis of the Ancestors. They are coated in the blood and the bones of fallen warriors and vanquished prey lining the border as a vicious warning to any who might think it wise to cross into the territories of the Kol’s of Ancient Aurora.

It would be considered a blessing from Maellor for any man to walk into the capital settlement of the tribes of Tyrak unscathed and then it would require a personal escort from the gods themselves for them to leave with all of their limbs still attached to their body. And no man, woman or child would see it as anything but a cruel curse to see one of the mighty Ogres walk amongst them.

The more peace loving folk of the Lochlands give thanks to the gods every day for the protection of the great winter barrier between them that is the Grey Wolds. Devout followers of Maellor refer to this barrier as the Winter Veil, a blessing of the Winter God as a form of shelter for his people. However, they will always fear the day when the veil disappears and the savages from the north roam southward to claim the lives of their prey as they march to war and conquest in their search for dominion over men.

The Legend of Old Erathos

Long before any man set foot on the continent of Gaiaden, before their Kings and Courts would come to rule over the cities of Winter and Stone, there was Erathos.

There is an old legend that states that this settlement of old bones and sandstone, the first city of all humankind and the very foundation for this intrepid race, was once a beautiful island full of seafarers and explorers. They would travel the seas in search of trade and grand escapades, to expand their horizons and bring back goods to share with their people. The island was said to be a warm land with soft, cool breezes that blew as blessings from the vast waters for miles around. The fish and food were plentiful and their songs were filled with joy. It was believed to be a peaceable place during a passive time for there were no neighbours to harbour feelings of envy or hatred. There were no other folk around for five hundred miles to inflict upon them any harm. As we know today from travellers who venture there now, those days if they ever existed are long gone.

The Mithylfar of Sollistar would have you believe that the Sun God Mithron, the All God and the creator of the world, became enraged that this lesser race would dare cross the sea for themselves to find anything other than the paradise they already dwelled within. They say he questioned their pride and their desires to discover more than what they already had, which was thought to be bountiful.

The libraries within the Citadel of the Aeons in Amberfall, contain old tomes that tell of an ancient cataclysm that caused untold levels of chaos and destruction around the island of Old Erathos and its unfortunate inhabitants. It goes on to state that this was likely the very reason that those ships that were already out at sea when this occurred were not able to return home and so they sailed for the nearest habitable land that could sustain them. These same passages declare that this place that they discovered of strange dark green and snow white colours was the Lochlands, the southern half of the lands of winter.

The Drohken monks of Kyr’Qandor say that it is hubris and utter arrogance to claim to have any knowledge of what truly happened, for no one lives today that once walked those shores from thousands of years ago that can speak the truth of the matter.

Whatever is said by any who deem to venture a guess, it is only the legend that remains consistent. It is one that combines the viewpoints of both the Mithylfar and the ancient men who settled within the domains of Gaiaden.

This legend goes that Mithron was indeed angry with the race of men and so he cast his furious gaze upon the seas surrounding the island and scorched them relentlessly until the very ocean waters boiled and were banished until there was naught left but sand. Old Erathos remained untouched and became surrounded by a single lake that encircled the once great island nation. A lake too narrow that could not be sailed by the ships of old and it is thought that it is a cruel testament cast down from the God of Gods, a permanent reminder of what they once were and what they can no longer be for the only seawater surrounding the city and its lake now is an ocean of lifeless sand known as the Deadlands. Those who remained in the city would sail no more.

Today this ancient site of the first men still stands surrounded by its lake at the centre of the scorched lands and has become known to wanderers as the Eye of the Desert. Its people are hardy and sun drenched. Their city is old, crumbling and filled with bitter heritage and tributes to a dead way of life. Most that live there today have never seen any of the seas of Ayl’gard and they never will for crossing the desert of the Deadlands is a death sentence to most. Some do not know why they yearn for ships and sails, to navigate the seas and explore long forgotten lands, a craving for a long dead legacy that they do not fully understand and one that can never be revived.

Many would argue that the Deadlands have always been there as they are now, as they have always been. How then do they account for the ancient shipwrecks that lie in the sands, wasting and crumbling into the ashes and grains of a land without life? What do they say when they happen upon the ruins of a vessel that has no explanation as to why it is buried in deep sands three hundred miles away from the nearest ocean?

Maybe only the Gods can say what or why for, however they speak to no one in the land of the dead sands.  According to the rulers of the city the Gods have long since forsaken them. And so they care not for the worship of Maellor or Samaia, Altyr or Ashyara and they curse the name of Mithron for this perceived tragedy inflicted upon them from an age or more ago. Maybe the legend is true and it was a tragedy that was inflicted upon these ancient men. Perhaps it is a false legacy perpetuated by another God, one so twisted and so cruel as to deny them the truth. Or perhaps it is neither and the lands were always coarse and lifeless. Maybe this ancient legacy is just old tales that travelled from faraway lands brought over by strange new folk that have been malformed beyond semblance and misremembered through the generations.

Unfortunately, no one will ever know.