The Newer Lands
The Newer Lands: This continent rests in the southern hemisphere, close to the artic circle. Despite this the climate is teperate except in the far south. Originally populated by a collection of native tribes and goblin invaders, the newer lands were ‘discovered’ and colonised just over two centuries ago, by the exploration fleet of a vast continent-spanning theocracy called the Sevenfold Realm. The realm had grown overcrowded and used the new colonies ot off-load convicts, free people looking for a new start, and retired military officers who had been rewarded for their services with a writ to claim land in the colonies. Since, then the colonies have flourished, interupted only by internal conflict between the different landowning lords. After an invasion by goblinoids, the Realm attempted to exert control over the newer lands, and bring the local lords to heel, by setting up the Govenors of the original Colony-cities as the local authority. These efforts resulted in a period of secret war between different power blocs, but the real victims, as always, were the common people. This era of conflict game to a head when a war hero of the northernmost colony city- Baelamar- overthrew the Govenor and began a revolt against the govenors and the sevenfold realm.
The Revolution: The revolution was a bitter and bloody conflict, in which the Realm, the Govenors, and their loyalists attempted to crush the revolt, while populist uprisings spread like wildfire and the ranks of the rebel army swelled. While the rebels were ultimatly outnumbered by the massive forces of the Seven Armies of Heaven, they had manay advantages, chiefly the versatility of thier forces, which were drawn from the different cultures and races of the frontier. This, combined with the strategic prowess of their leaders, allowed them to defeat larger forces time and again. The war was fought on several fronts, but primarily across the terrain around Tonnerre, a central located colony city. Ultimatly the rebel army triumphed at a final battle waged in and around the city of Tonnerre itself, aided by a popular uprising of the citizenry. While the victory was decisive, the rebels found themselves with little motivation to continue- the Realm offered them generous terms for a lasting peace, and even those rebel leaders who were not motivated by selfish goals were sick of the bloodshed the despaired of ever seeing peace for their people.
The Reconciliation: Even as victory was being celebrated, the true cost of peace became aparent. The two sides reached had an agreement for the new status quo of the colonies, but the terms of the peace would mean major changes for the colonies. Many within the Sevenfold realm who had supported greater control over the colonies did so with the best of intentions, and now these factions pushed for a more lawful and orderly system to be put in place. On the other hand, while many of the nobles and heroes who led the revolution had acted with the welfare of the common people in mind, many others had saw it simply as a path to power, and now saw their way open to eliminate rivals and change the system to suit themselves. The result was the reconciliation, a polite name for an era that was marked with both highs and lows. The lot of the common people was indeed greatly improved- a uniform code or laws and a proclamation of ‘the sancity of liberty’ for all people ensured that the tyranny of the noble class would be at the very least restrained. But the better part of the reconciliation concerned the reshuffling of power and the creation of a new order- Lord became Barons, and the old Govenors of the large city-colonies became Dukes, who had the right to demand fealty from the Barons (assuming they had the force to back up their threats). Ultimatly most of the Baronies fell under the control of the Dukes, while a few on the border remained independant.
The Observers of the Sevenfold Realm: The victory over the old opressors was far from complete. Not only did the old empire still threaten the colonies miltirarily, but the skill of it’s politicians and negociators ensured that it’s influence remains felt in the colonies to this day. This began in the reconciliation when, almost as soon as the ink was dry on the peace treaty, advisors, aides, and diplomats from the realms began to court the Dukes and the most powerful Barons. The result is that in the generation and more since the revolution, the Realm has maintained it’s influence over the Newer Lands, through the naval enclaves it uses to ‘protect trade’, and the agreements that allow it’s officers to lead small groups of men to ‘observe’ the security of the Duke’s holdings. These envoys of the realm have made themelves very useful to the Dukes- aiding in the security of their lands, acting as a buffer against rivals, offering loans when their treasuries dwindle- and influcing policy and events in the Newer Lands as much, if not more, as they did when they acted through the old Govenors.
The Flotsam of War: The war and the eras of conflict before it had given rise to many odd professions and institutions, and as the new order was created, these trappings of the old wars were swept aside by the power-brokers of a new beginning, who saw them as threats, or worse yet, embarasments. The largest of these was the church of Avandra, who had played a central role in the revolution, including fighting on the front lines. Under the influence of their bitter enemies in the priesthood of Erathis, the Avandran faith was banished from the Colony-citied for ten years after the treaty. In theory this was punishment for the sacking of several temples of Erathis in the darkest days of the rebellion, but there was little to link the followers of Avandra to these events. In truth, the new Dukes of the colony cities, felt that the city-masters of Erathis and their arts (such as the construction of sewers and towers) were vital for the future prosperity of their shinning cities. For their part, the faithful of Avandra were outraged by what they saw as a ‘great betrayal’, but many also welcome the call of the open road, long a central tenent of their faith.
In truth, the followers of Avandra were not nearly as poorly treated as the followers of Moradin. Many dwarves had marched to war, against the wishes of their people and even their clans, hoping to end the Tithe that the dwarvern people had owed to the Sevenfold Realm for centuries. Despite being on the winning side of the revoltuion, these Dwarves found their dreams would die stillborn, as the new Dukes, with the permission of the Sevenfold Realm, gained custody of a half-measure of the Tithe, with the rest continuing on across the sea to the Realm, as it had done since the creation of the Dwarfhome in the early eras of the colony. Worse yet, the realm demanded that the Dwarves pay a penalty for the lowered output they’d suffered when many of their best engineers and weaponsmiths had marched off to war. The dwarves of the ancient home blamed their rebel kinfolk for the situation, while the rebel dwarves found themselves unwelcome in the halls of the Dukes and Barons they had aided so greatly in the revolution. Unable to return home, and cut off from support, the outcast dwarves endured as best they could, finding work as mercenaries and craftsmen in the cities.
Perhaps the most notable coup by the negociators of the Realm came with reguards to control of the sea. The Rebels had a small fleet of ships, mostly stolen from the Realm’s Navy, but apart from that the Realm’s Naval fleet had control of the oceans. The Realm, in an act of seemingly great generosity, agreed to allow merchants and nobles of the newer lands to trade freely in the Realm itself, in exchange for an end to the colony’s new naval fleet which, they argued, was mostly stolen property anyway. Pressed by the greed of the merchants and residing over realms starved of trade, the Dukes agreed to the terms, and ordered the People’s Revolutionary Navy to cede their vessles to their fierce rivals in the Sevenfold Expeditionary Fleet. They refused to a man, each captain and their crew comitting mutiny against the newly formed state rather than giving over their beloved ships and way of life to the Realmsmen who’s defeat they had played a small but vital role in. Unwilling to expend more resources, the Realm’s Navy dispatched a small group of ships to run down the rebels in their haunts in the island chains to the north- a week later only one returned, reporting that the other ships had ben sunk, or siezed. So began the era of Piracy on the high seas, as the remnants of the reolutionary fleet survived by raiding merchants ships, that traveled between the realms, the colonies, and other smaller outposts on shores most people had never even heard of. It’s been over a genration since the pirates started their reaving, and it’s not exactly clear how they’ve endured for so long- but rumor persist that, during the days of the resolution, a dry dock and shipyard was built in a sheltered deepwater bay, on a remote island. It is from this place, so it is said, that the ‘revolting pirates’ repair their ships, take on supplies, and revel in their brutal brand of freedom.
But while it could be said that much of the ‘flotsam of war’ were treated unfairly or unjustly by the new order, this was not always the case. In the revolution and the factional conflicts that preceeded it, there had arisen a class of mercenary-profiteer known as the ‘Adventurer’, named with bitter irony after the far less morally dubious explorers and heroes of the previous colonial eras. While the adventurers of previous eras had been at worst seen as greedy or iresponsible in their exploits, the new generation were nothing more than thugs, cut-thoats, and some would say, heretics. Many specialised in terrorising the common folk, in order to sabotage the prfits of their lords and masters. Others were masters of alchemy, poisons, or dark ritual magic. As the new order set about bringing law and order to the land, the heroes and champions of the revolution (and many of their former enemies amongs the loyalists) were called upon to root out these villains once and for all- despite that fact that in some cases, they had worked with them in the past, or even been numbered amongst them in the days of sinister conspiracies that preceeded the revolution. Adding to their ranks were a new crop of heroes and adventurers: a generation of Justiciars, Bounty-Hunters, Witch-Finders and Inquisitors aided in ending the very real threat posted by the villains that had lurked in the shadows of the old order.
Eventually most of the undesirables were bought to justice or simply dissapeared. One group however, having seen the writing on the wall in the early stages of the revolution, reorganised itself and became a force to be reckoned with in no small part due to the nature of their power. This group, although devious, were no mere theves. Although murderous, they were not assasins, and despite their wealthy, they did not come from noble or merchant stock. The power they called on had an altogether more sinister origin.
The Ebon Spire Coven To the east of Baelamar, just off the coast, rest a series of large islands. Despite sucessive eras of exploration and expansion, these islands have never had more than a sparse population, and carry a grim fate for most who seek to dwell there. Known by the ancient tribes of the area as the Islands of the Dead, the Duchy of Baelamar itself is named for them- or rather against them, since it’s origin is in the cliff-top fastness upon with the capital still sits which, in ancient times, was the lookout used by the elven tribes, to keep watch over the distant and menacing lands. It was here, in ancient times, that the invaders of the first goblin wars raised their crude fortresses, and held them for years before the ancient legandary heroes of the tribes- the original ‘StormKin’, broke their greenskins’s power in the east. It was here in later times that the most vicious criminals were exiled, in times when the people feared that to execute them would only lead to a haunting or unquiet grave. And it was here in later times then the Ebon Spire Coven raised up the fortress that gave them their name.
Little if anything is known about the Coven. Their origins have been the source of much hushed speculation. Most of them almost certainly originated in the ranks of the menacing sorts who plied their trade for nobles with dark designs on their rivals, in the time before the revolution, when the factions waged a secret war between one another. In those days they were the kinfolk of assains and raiders, but always a breed apart, for even the most faithless cut-throat finds themselves ill at ease in the company of such formidable heretics and infernalists. By the time of the revolution many of the old guard had been slain or driven into hiding- and the arcanists were no exception. Most of the wizards and warlocks that still plied their dark trade came to a messy end, a vulnerable target in the chaos of war. Still, rumors persisted that a group, perhaps of three, perhaps more, continued to operate as extremly expensive assains, seers and ritualists, available for hire by only the most reckless, deperate, and wealthy of clients. More than one mysterious death in the days of the reconciliation was atributed to this shadowy cabal, although it was difficult to be sure wether these victims were targets, or halpless would-be clients.
Beyond that, there is little certainty. It was said with some confidence that there were nine of them, and that they raised a tower at the north-most point of the isles of the dead, far outside the reach of the Duchy of Baelamar, in those diffcult times when the Duke was still struggling to consolidate his power and cotrol over the barons. For their part, the Realm Navy was busy setting up it’s own outposts in the isles, a process they found difficult enough without travling far to the north, closer to the lairs of the pirates their skirmished with, in order to investigate dark rumors of a tower so black that it was invisible at night, and cast a pall even in the brightest light of day. But the influence of the Coven was felt, far and wide. It was said they purhcased slaves and other resources from pirates and smugglers with silver that flowed like water from a well. That with the blessings of the dark gods they served, they spread a network of favours and threats amongst the less moral people of the colonies, a secret empire which brought them weath, influence, even a dark kind of prestige. The pirates of the northern archipelago were theirs to command, and the reamaining heretics and witches of the mainland swore fealty to them, as if they were feudal lords of the dark arts.
Few if any can say how far their influence spread in those days, but more than one band of doughy heroes sailed off to find them, convinced that they were plotting the very destruction of the world. And perhaps they were- the seers and mystics of the time were terrified of them, even moreso than people of that sort usually are. The priesthoods pleaded with the Dukes and Barons to take action against the looming threat- even those faiths normally quite reserved in their dealings, like the church of Ioun, were moved to a frantic call to arms against the threat they foresaw. Unfortunatly, the Coven was aided by the most conservative and apathetic of the nobility, who saw little reason to mount a major expedition into a cursed and inhospitable land and perhaps, the influence of the coven was felt even here. As hysteria gripped the common folk, witch-burnings became commonplace- they even burnt a few real ones- while the heroes that vowed to find the spire returned from fruitless searches or, far more often, not at all.
It seemed likely that some great confrontation was coming with the mysterious dark power that was growing, in a nightmare tower in a cursed land. But what happened next suprised everyone.
In 192fv, 13 years ago to be precise, the small settlements on the closest shores of the isles of the dead sent out desperate pleas for aid via swift sail; raving fishermen came shore in Baelamar, claiming that an army of the dead was marching across the isles towards their villages. Heroes in Baelamar and beyond rallied to the cry, and before the formal muster could be brought out, a smll army of adventurers took ship across the channel to one of the towns. What they found there was not an invasion of the undead, but something far less threatening, and far more terrible. Huddled outside the wooden palisades of the small coastal village were people. Thousands of people in rags, with a square brand on their left temple; men, women, children, humans, dwarves, even elves, looking indeed, like the walking dead, and many in fact did die in the days to come. Many of the heroes went home in digust, but the wiser and more compasionate ones stayed, caring for the sick, and learning their story.
So did new reach the colonies of the fall of the ebon spire. They learnt not from conquering heroes or wise seers, but the desperate piteous cries of the slaves the Ebon Spire had kept before it’s fall, purchased from slavers who raided coastal villages, island tribes, and distant lands few in the colonies even knew existed. Each of them branded with the mark of the Coven, each of them terrified and broken by the terrors and labor they had been subjected to. With the urging of the chruches, the Duke authorised the evacuation of the slaves, and they were settled mostly on the banks of the White River. A contingent of soldiers and heroes traveled to the location they described, and found the ruins of a great keep beside the sea- and within the sea, a dark shape, the Ebon Spire itself, toppled over into the shalows by some unknowable force.
So it was that the Ebon Spire ceased to be a nightmare, and became instead a mystery.