There was a golden age on Atharril, long ago. If you were to mention it now, most would laugh at you, spit in your face, tell you that things have always been this way, that our lot has always been to suffer, to scrape out our meager existences on these rocky shores. But if you were to ask the scholars of Daradhar, or could wake the one sleeping at Tinat Lerang, you might hear a different story, a story of soaring castle parapets, mighty kings, and a thriving culture steeped in music and the arts. Of prosperous relations with the great nations of the world built on mutual respect and abundant trade. A story of a once great ruler, who justly presided over the hub of the known world, this great island-continent known as Atharril. Very few have any knowledge of this bygone age, before the wars divided us, before the seas turned against us, before the decay…
How did this happen, you ask? Listen to me, and I will tell you, but I warn you, it is a bitter task, one I do not relish, not in the slightest…
Aronend was his name, which once rang loud and clear across the five lands of the world, like bells across the great harbor at Perhinelm. Aronend Isrilon of Atharril, the king, high king, greatest of rulers. He was wise, compassionate, just, and loved by all, for he truly embodied the noble ideal of rulership. His radiant queen, Brinaylen, ruled beside him, beautiful and kind, ever his trusted companion and confidante, a lady of the highest distinction. Emissaries from afar bowed at Aronend’s feet, some swearing fealty, never to return to their homelands. Great gifts were presented to him: heaps of gold and silver, ornately decorated and bejeweled weapons and armor, countless yards of the finest silken cloth, imbued with the essence and delicate fragrance of foreign lands, and jewels befitting a god among men.
No one is certain when she appeared, Verdarine, Wraith-Song, but it wasn’t long after Brinaylen was banished from Atharril. The boat, streaming the white banners of Atharril, even as it trailed the tears of the betrayed queen, had just disappeared over the horizon, when the dark robed woman materialized behind the throne. No, a woman she was not, for her earthly allotment of years had already passed in full.
For some time, things seemed to continue as usual, but Verdarine never stopped sowing her seeds of destruction. When the first uprising began in the old city of Ashtorhat, before it was burnt to the ground, Aronend, the once peaceful king, who had never resorted to violence in all of his years, ordered it crushed with sickening brutality. Around the time of the third uprising there were claims that old friends, friends who had been slain just weeks before, walked the earth again and had turned on their allies. Time would prove the claims to be true, and with each fresh slaughter, Aronend’s army was bolstered by those who had been trapped in a pitiful semblance of life, forced into an eternity of servitude by unworldly powers.
Some say it was a coalition of powerful sorcerers from the other nations of the world who caused the seas to rise up, foam over, and froth in anger at the evil spreading in Atharill. Whatever the cause, by the end of the seventh and final rebellion the seas were impassable beyond a few miles from shore. Great leviathans rose up in protest, and the gods of the heavens sent fiery bolts to demolish any would-be ocean goers. To this day, we cannot escape this place. Many have tried and been lost.
Still, there were those who clung to hope, praying that the faith they had in their former king was well founded, and that all would be returned to it’s former state. But some things cannot be undone, and the rot had spread too far. The skies darkened over Atharill at this time, and the climate grew colder, the land fallow and lifeless. The beasts of the island, ravenous with hunger and exhaustion, encroached on the human settlements, and other races, tainted with demonic influence made their presence known. It was at this time too that the Cult of Dys rose to power. Under their influence, the people of Atharill were enslaved, taxed to starvation. Those who protested disappeared. Children were taken from their parents, never to return, victims of dark rites and cruel experiments.
Thanks to Sabanis, shining protecter, slayer of the demonic and the undead, that some had the wisdom to know there was no going back. The three leaders, Vaelmryn, Ildrissor, and Rildenon, met in secret and together organized their people. They left central Atharill, though it pained them to abandon their homeland, crossing the mountains in a ragged exodus. Many lives were lost to cold and starvation, to the beasts of the mountains, to the rock-dwelling demons, and after many grueling months on foot, at last they arrived on the shores of the island-continent. Some immediately fell to despair upon realizing that the raging seas made escape impossible. But Vaelmryn spoke out, her voice shining clear and true above the chaos, and she rallied the people.
Three new cities were established at that time: Perhinelm in the west ruled by Vaelmryn the Courageous, New Ashtorhat in the east ruled by Rildenon the Faithful, and Daradhat in the south, ruled by Ildrissor, the Learned. Quickly, a lack of consensus became evident, the three rulers disagreeing on how to proceed. Ildrissor believed that a means to calm the seas could be found, or a way to banish the undead forever, and that intensive research would reveal this. The scholars of Daradhat dug deeply into their tomes of knowledge, salvaged from the now ruined libraries of the old cities. Rildenon, on the other hand, still trusted that Aronend was not completely corrupt, that the once benevolent ruler could be convinced to abandon his dark path. The emissaries and clerics of New Ashtorhat rallied to process into the center of Atharill and engage in diplomacy with the king. Vaelmryn, who’s people were largely survivors of the worst massacres of the War of Darkness, believed in the utter destruction of Aronend’s forces, and sought retribution through arms. Unfortunately, their differences could not be reconciled, and swayed by the corruption of agents sent by the Wraith-Song, Verdarine, the survivors of Atharill burst into war.
After months of campaigning in a bloody series of conflicts, the three leaders met at the battle of the Navesril pass, the point at which the mountains surrounding central Atharill break. There, at the height of winter, the most gruesome engagement of the war began. After many days, the three leaders finally found themselves face to face at the center of the battlefield. Once close friends, they were now poised to slay each other. But just as they were about to end their lives, and the hopes of all they led, a great undead hosted appeared, like an apparition, marching down through the wintery pass. Aronend, taking advantage of the weakened state of the three armies, made his greatest bid yet to forever wipe the living from the face of Atharill. It is said that there was a long moment of silence, broken only by the howling of the winds, as the two massive forces faced off in the pass. Slowly, a mounted figure pushed through the rotting, skeletal host, and a great dread fell on the survivors of Atharill.
Before them stood their once proud leader, Aronend. His armor, constructed from an arcane material, was the deepest hue of black and sent wisps of eerie blue light into the air, bathing him in an unholy aura. His shining crown had rusted, jewels fallen from their sockets like eyes from a decaying corpse. His steed, once a regal beast, swiftest of horses, was covered in armor constructed from rusted metal plates, protruding razors and blades, and the bones and skin of the fallen. And his face… O Sabanis, it was then that the leaders knew how far he had fallen, it was then that Rildenon gave up all hope of reconciliation. Aronends cheeks had sunken deeply, and his skin taken on a deathly pallor. His eyes, had lost their luster, pupils almost black, tainted by unholy magics. And his hair, once fine and lustrous, was reduced to thin, tattered, decaying ribbons of grey. The king, forevermore, would be known as Aronend, Death’s Hand, the Betrayer.
Once he had take his position at the front, it was then that they noticed her, the Wraith-Song, her arms about his waist, sitting behind Aronend, gazing out with satisfaction, sure of her victory.
With the survivors of Atharill clearly outnumbered by the undead warriors, Vaelmryn raised her great hammer to the air and charged the enemy host with a mighty roar. A tremendous cry, greater than any heard before on this earth, rose in to the air, and the survivors made their final stand, rushing after their courageous leader. For a moment, it seemed there was hope, as they crashed into the front line, obliterating the first wave of their unholy adversaries. But Verdarine lifted her dark scepter to the heavens and sent a wave of darkness across the battlefield. Do you know what it’s like to see your greatest fears materialize before your eyes? Terror filled the hearts of the attackers. Half of them turned and fled, and the other half were paralyzed, rooted to the spot. Instantly, the undead host set upon them, clawing eyes, tearing skin, and devouring flesh.
It was then that Ildrissor revealed the fruits of his many long hours of study. Deep in the library vaults of Daradhar, he had unexpectedly uncovered a tome containing the esoteric, arcane secrets of Old Atharill, long lost to the annals of time. For many long months he had poured over the volume, unable to decipher it’s mysterious, tortuous riddles. It was as if, on the battlefield that day, the rage he felt in his heart towards the vile and corrupt ruler before him clarified, rather than obscured the complex formulas he had been contemplating for so long. In a single instant, he realized the mechanics of those arcane diagrams, and saw in one blinding flash the whole compendium of formulas as a unified whole. To the complete amazement of all, Ildrissor, the Learned, stepped forth, the air collapsing momentarily around him, and then, with a wave of his hand, unleashed a howling scream of the elements, a blinding explosion of shear energy that incinerated the legions of Aronend as if they were scraps of paper set atop a funeral pyre. Rallying and cheering, the survivors charged back into the fray.
This small victory proved short lived though, and the mass of ravenous, flesh-devouring ghouls too strong and numerous. One by one, the brave citizens of Atharill were felled and rose again to turn on their comrades. Brave Vaelmryn slowly was sapped of her seemingly endless stamina, Rildenon’s stern resolve and faith flagged in the face of such adversity, and Ildrissor’s fiery displays tapered down to small stutters of flame and spark. Gradually, they were encircled by the undead, for who can deter a foe that feels no pain, that has no life to live, that is nothing but a puppet, animated by the unholy wishes of it’s diabolical master?
In this final, fated hour, as the blasphemous creatures closed in, one last great miracle was revealed. The Order of Sabanis, a secret society of priests, paladins and druids that had formed at the request of Rildenon, with the sole mission of banishing the foul undead from Atharill forever, threw back there outer garments, revealing clothes bearing the symbol of their sacred Silver Owl, and stepped forward. With hands raised high in prayer to Sabanis, the protector, it seemed that the heavens opened momentarily, illuminating the devotees in brilliant, golden shafts of light. In an instant, the battlefield erupted in geysers of holy flame, cascading between the heavens and the earth like the aurora borealis, and the foul creatures were consumed entirely, freed from un-death by this act of great mercy.
Realizing the day had been turned, the Betrayer fled, with Verdarine at his side, to his keep in the middle of what are now known as the Deadlands, and it is there that he has remained to this day. The survivors rejoiced, and the three leaders finally realized their common interest, but the wounds caused by the suffering of their war with each other ran too deep. They agreed to divide what was left of Atharill into three kingdoms that to this day hold the names of their founders, Vaelmryn, Ildrissor, and Rildenon, with their capitols being Perhinelm, Daradhat, and New Ashtorhat respectively. The Order of Sabanis, now known to society, methodically established outposts and monasteries in the foothills of the mountains that surround the Deadlands, keeping vigilant watch for any sign of a renewed threat. Having seen the corruption humans are capable of, the elves and dwarves of Atharill chose to withdraw from society. The elves retreated high into the mountains, and have since lived nomadic lifestyles as hunter-gatherers amidst the cold, distant mountain peaks. The dwarves fled far underground, where they believed, for a time, that no corrupting influence could possibly reach them…
And the rest of us? Over the centuries, we have learned to live with what we have been given. The harsh conditions of life, the scarcity of food, the inclement weather and impassable seas, the incursions by marauding undead, or daemonic creatures from the mountains, are all just parts of our lives. We have never known anything else, nor have our parents, or our grandparents, or our grandparents parents. Even this story is vanishing from our memories, just as the belief in a world beyond the desolation of Atharill dwindles and fades, like a ship on the distant horizon.
Excerpt from the Karandan, of which there are three extant copies held in the Central Library at Daradhat