The Story So Far

There can be no disputing that Barsaive has been shaped by the events of the past, and the Scourge has perhaps had the most profound influence on the land and the Namegivers that live in it. But the Scourge is not all of history, and any understanding of Barsaive must look beyond that long night, into ancient decisions that echo into the present day.

Centuries ago, long before the Scourge was even a shadow at the edge of our dreams, well before the Kingdom of Throal was founded, the Elven Court at Wyrm Wood stood as the center of culture and civilization. The Queen ruled from her seat on the Rose Throne, and even elves in distant lands looked to the Court for guidance in what it meant to be an elf. The first hints of what would become the Schism appeared during the reign of Queen Dallia. The nation of Shosara on the shores of the Gwyn Sea needed ships more suited for the open ocean than traditional elven vessels. They looked instead to the designs used by the residents of the nearby city of Khistova. 

What began as mild concern over the departure from tradition became a fullblown scandal when the Court learned that the Khistovans were human. The more traditionally minded viewed this as an unforgivable insult to the purity of the elven ways. The only recourse, they argued, was Separation—formally sundering Shosara’s ties with the Court, and declaring them no longer true elves. Before deciding what sanctions should be leveled against the Shosaran elves, Queen Dallia decided to travel to Shosara. Separation would be a fate worse than death, and she was not willing to impose such a severe punishment without first visiting the land and its people. Unfortunately, the Queen’s expedition met with tragedy. Not long after the Queen and her escort left the safety of Wyrm Wood, they were set upon by the great dragon Alamaise and killed. The reason for this is disputed to this day. Some tales claim it was driven by the bloodthirsty nature of dragons. Others hint the attack was punishment for some unspecified crime. The story told in the Elven Court is that Dallia was murdered for refusing to acknowledge Alamaise as the true ruler of Wyrm Wood.

Whatever the reason for the attack, any hope of reconciliation between Shosara and the Elven Court was lost when Dallia’s successor, Failla, claimed the Rose Throne two years later. A staunch traditionalist, in her eyes there was no excuse for Shosara tainting elven purity the way they did. Shosara was declared forever apart from the Court, and all elves were to sever ties with the nation immediately. Not surprisingly, much turmoil resulted from Queen Failla’s declaration, especially among those elves with ties to Shosara. The Queen held firm, punishing those who spoke out against her. One of the Court’s most favored advisors, Elianar Messias, was banished from the Court for speaking out against the decision. Failla declared he might return when he “learned the value of heritage and a quiet tongue.” Decisions like these chart the course of nations.

Messias never returned to the Court. He travelled to a small monastery in the foothills of the Delaris Mountains dedicated to Mynbruje, the Passion of Knowledge. The scholars there had uncovered a trove of ancient books and scrolls and gleaned from the parts they were able to translate that they were written during a time when magic was dormant. 

Included in the trove uncovered by the scholars was a set of six volumes, identical in style and size. Each had an unsettling rune inscribed in blood on its cover. Messias was convinced they contained powerful, and possibly dangerous, knowledge, and dedicated his life to translating their secrets. 

Those secrets would, in the end, cost him his life. 

Some years later, his fellow scholars found Messias on the floor of his chamber, wracked with pain and near death. His hands were burned and his face bloody; he had apparently dug his own eyes out and then cast them into the fire. The mysterious books lay stacked on his desk. A note beside them, in Messias’s hand, read:

These are the Books of Harrow
They are our doom and our salvation.
Learn from them, or we all perish.

That night, six more scholars died horribly, killed by something stalking the corridors of the monastery. The next day, one of the surviving scholars, Kearos Navarim, accompanied by three others, set out with the Books of Harrow. Their destination was an island in the Selestrean Sea, far to the southwest, where Navarim was born. The island was a naturally occurring focus of magical energy, and the scholars hoped that energy would protect them as they continued Messias’s work. When they arrived at the island, they called their new home Nehr’esham, or “center of the mind” in the elven tongue. They dedicated themselves to unraveling the mysteries of the Books of Harrow, honoring the memory of Elianar Messias, who would become known as the Martyr Scholar. 

As part of their efforts to translate the Books of Harrow, Navarim and the other scholars sent word to sages and magicians around the world. In addition to looking for help deciphering the Books, they were certain that similar tomes could be found surviving in other places. The island became a center for scholarship and learning as adepts and scholars of all kinds came together to assist in the Great Project. 

Nehr’esham grew quickly, drawing merchants and tradesmen. As the collection of books and scrolls grew, the city’s managers arranged for the construction of what would eventually be known as the Eternal Library. It would be a place dedicated to the study of ancient knowledge, magically warded and controlled for the safety of the tomes it contained, as well as those studying them. 

Construction of the library continued for more than a hundred years. During that time, disturbing news filtered to the island from other parts of the world. In the human kingdom of Landis, wraithlike spirits stalked the night, turning men to violence. For the dwarfs of Scytha, every child born withered and died in its first month of life, throwing the kingdom into chaos. In many other places, nests of twisted, insect-like humanoids were found. In southern Barsaive, attempts to root out these creatures, called invae, resulted in the total destruction of the city of Emmerlich. To this day, none are certain how many were corrupted by these creatures, and how many were simply innocent victims caught up in the panic. 

For Navarim and the other scholars of Nehr’esham, these events were portents of things to come. Jaron, a brilliant dwarf scholar and one of Navarim’s main assistants, managed to complete a translation of the First Book of Harrow. The Book warned that the dark events taking place around the world heralded the coming of the Horrors. The Horrors are powerful and terrible spirits from the darkest reaches of the netherworlds. As the earth’s magical energy reaches its peak, the Horrors are able to cross into this world. The Horrors are twisted and beyond reason. Their only desire is to consume and destroy. Some feast on anything physical. Others prefer the flesh and blood of living creatures, while the most powerful and terrible feast on pain, fear, and other dark emotions. 

The Horrors were coming, and little could be done to stop them. 

Copies of the First Book of Harrow were sent to leaders throughout the known world in an effort to warn them of the coming danger. At first, few listened. 

The mission of Nehr’esham changed. Work to translate the remaining Books of Harrow continued, but now with the goal of finding a way to stop the Horrors, or at least craft some kind of defense against them. With this changed focus, the leaders of Nehr’esham gave their city a new Name: Thera, which means “foundation,” reflecting the hope to provide a foundation for the salvation of the world.  

While many nations initially disregarded the warnings of the First Book of Harrow, the city continued to grow as more and more people travelled there to study, trade, and live on the island. One unfortunate side effect of the rapid growth was the development of slavery as an institution. 

Workers from other lands traveled to Thera to provide the labor needed to support the city. Demand led merchant houses to charge high rates for passage. As many of those traveling to the city were unable to pay their passage in advance, financial arrangements were made that indentured the workers to the merchant house as a way of paying off their debt. Over a few decades, the arrangements became more and more favorable for the merchants. Eventually, an indentured worker would never be able to actually pay off his debt, making him—and frequently his family as well—permanent property of the merchant house. To administer the burgeoning city, leading citizens created a more formal government. They created a council of advisors and administrators known as The Twelve. While Navarim was still considered the leader, his advanced age and focus on his work with the Books of Harrow made his position mostly ceremonial. One of the first actions taken by the Twelve was establishment of a military force to protect Thera and its citizens from bandit and pirate raids. 

Navarim cemented his legacy by founding the School of Shadows, the center of the effort to gather information about the coming Horrors and devising ways to defeat them. The research uncovered insights and understandings about the nature of magic that opened up remarkable abilities. By manipulating the powerful energies contained in the True Elements, the Therans crafted buildings of stunning beauty, as well as airships enabling fast, reliable travel over long distances. Other discoveries included insights into magical warding and protection, healing, illusion and transformation magic, and knowledge of the netherworlds. 

As the influence of Thera grew, the island nation forged trade alliances with cities and nations around the Selestrean Sea. Their reach eventually returned to Barsaive, where the Books of Harrow were found and the course of history set in motion. The area was rich in natural resources Thera needed to support its growing population and power. The initial envoys to Landis, Ustrect, Throal, and other powers in the region were welcomed, and the rulers happily made agreements with Thera to share in her growing wealth and influence. 

Nearly four hundred years after founding Nehr’esham, Kearos Navarim died of old age. His body was preserved in amber and given a place of honor in the great plaza of Thera’s citadel. Rumors indicated that Navarim worked to the very end trying to complete the Great Project. The rumors proved true. Not long after Navarim’s death, his successor, a human Named Meach Vara Lingam, revealed his final achievement, the Rites of Protection and Passage.

While little beyond a sharp blade and a strong will can defeat the Horrors, Navarim’s four-volume work lays out a theoretical basis for protection from them. Because of their power and numbers, direct confrontation would prove suicidal. Only isolation could provide a true means of protection. This isolation could be achieved by constructing great underground fortresses. 

Called kaers, these shelters used the living stone of the earth itself to protect against the physically powerful Horrors, as well as those who traveled through astral space. Cities could construct domes of True Earth, or woven from True Air or True Fire. Kaers could be built under the sea and reinforced with True Water. Additional protection could be woven into the kaer’s defenses with wards and runes that could “trap” a Horror within the maze of the ward’s construction. 

The work concluded with a charge for the School of Shadows to put the theory presented in the Rites into practical use. It also recommended that work begin constructing kaers wherever possible, to prepare for the day when the Horrors would be so numerous as to make the surface uninhabitable. That time, Navarim warned, was about eight hundred years in the future.
Reaction to the Rites was mixed at best. Some disregarded its conclusions entirely, unable to believe in a threat so far in the future. Other people, especially those in areas that had been in areas subject to early indications of the Horrors, viewed the Rites with prophetic reverence. 

The School of Shadows continued to develop the magical knowledge needed to construct the protective wards. They succeeded, but the knowledge was kept secret. Instead, the mercantile interests in the city and within The Twelve planned to use them as a way to extend Theran influence.

Despite the reluctance of many nations to take Navarim’s warnings seriously, Thera did not wait. Its location at a nexus of magical energy, and the collected magical power and influence it had accumulated meant that it could very well act as a beacon to the Horrors. Construction of the island’s defenses began, and the Therans began importing large quantities of the magical metal orichalcum. 

Orichalcum is found when certain minerals interact in the presence of True Elements. Long valued by Elementalists and Weaponsmiths because it takes enchantment easily, it was usually considered a byproduct of efforts to mine True Earth. Nobody was sure why the Therans needed such large quantities of the material, but they were all too happy to provide it. The value of the orichalcum trade drew all manner of merchants and profiteers, and with that came the attention of bandits and raiders. The Crystal Raiders, troll clans that lived in the Twilight Peaks of Barsaive, began attacking shipments of orichalcum, sometimes ranging as far as Shosara in their raids. Other bandits took inspiration as well, and lords and leaders of different powers seized the opportunity to attack or sabotage the shipments of their rivals. 

This time in Barsaive is referred to as the Orichalcum Wars. Landis and Cara Fahd fought over territory rich in orichalcum and other True Elements, with the Kingdom of Ustrect joining in the conflict. The elves of Wyrm Wood fought with the dwarfs of Scytha, while Throal was beset with marauding tribes of orks. Nation turned against nation. Mercenaries sold their services and betrayed their employers for a fatter purse. 

The Therans didn’t concern themselves with the conflict as long as they got their shipments. Their own mining efforts continued, with their airships able to use refined techniques to mine True Air and True Fire from the skies over Death’s Sea. The Crystal Raiders were unable to resist the target presented by the Theran airships. They struck swiftly and often, disrupting mining operations across the region. Thera warned against interference with their vessels, and began arming their mining ships. The trolls continued their raids, leading Thera to start using military escorts. Even in the face of increased resistance, the trolls thumbed their noses at the Therans, using their ships’ smaller size and greater maneuverability to their advantage. 

The conflict was put to an end when the Therans revealed the true extent of their power. Early one morning a massive airship drifted towards the Twilight Peaks from the southwest. Unlike traditional airships, which bore some resemblance to waterborne vessels, this demonstration of Theran might was a massive stone fortress floating in midair. Nearly a thousand feet across, and propelled by raw magical power, the Therans called it a behemoth.

The troll clans did their best to mount a defense, but the behemoth was able to shrug off their attacks. The battle raged as the behemoth drew ever closer to the mountains. Once within range, the behemoth turned its attention to the villages on the mountain slopes. Siege engines rained rocks and massive arrows down on the trolls’ homes and families. Fireballs and bolts of magical energy carved swaths of destruction across the landscape, while bound elementals took care of what little resistance was offered.Stunned at the massacre, the Crystal Raiders surrendered. The clan leaders were taken back to Thera in chains, and their airships were destroyed. In what became known as the Battle of Sky Point, the Therans demonstrated their true power. They used the Battle to show what fate would befall those who interfere with their interests. 

One hundred days after the Battle of Sky Point, Thom Edro, then Elder of Thera, issued the Proclamation of Empire. Barsaive was made a Theran province, and Edro promised protection for any who would swear fealty. To enforce its decrees, a permanent military force was stationed near the city of Vivane. The Declaration also established the city of Parlainth in northeastern Barsaive as the province’s capital. It took time for the various powers in Barsaive to fall into line, but the might of the Theran Navy solidified their control. 

The other piece of Theran dominance came from the knowledge developed by the School of Shadows. Only subjects of the Empire would be given access to the wards and runes needed to protect the kaers from the Horrors. In return for this protection subject nations needed to provide the Empire with support in the form of orichalcum, money, and other resources.
Kern Fallo was installed as first Overlord of Barsaive. Fallo understood the need for local administration, and invited the dwarfs of Throal to assist in running the province. Caught between the Theran Navy and the need for the protective enchantments, the Kingdom agreed. They managed to mediate the effects of Theran occupation, defusing much of the tension that would have otherwise resulted. An added benefit of their role as provincial administrators was greater influence in the flow of trade across the land, resulting in the dwarf language becoming the common trading tongue in Barsaive.

While Thera dominated the lands around the Selestrean Sea and neighboring territories, they did not have absolute control. Many kingdoms and peoples searched for their own solution to the coming Horrors rather than submit to Theran authority. Some petitioned dragons for aid. These powerful beings were keepers of magical secrets even the Therans did not know. It was also suggested that dragons, as longlived creatures, might have even survived the prior invasion of the Horrors. 

As a rule, dragons prefer to keep their secrets, and many of these requests were met with silence. A few dragons, however, agreed to share some of the methods involved in the creation of dragon lairs. This knowledge often came with a price, but as the invasion neared, and signs of the Horrors became more common, more and more people were willing to pay the price necessary for survival. Thera was torn over what response, if any, they should have. Edro had no desire to antagonize the dragons. Even a behemoth would have a difficult time facing down the might of an enraged dragon. Unfortunately, merchant factions that most profited from the trade in Theran provinces brought enough pressure to bear that the Empire was forced to act.

Strikes were made against three dragons that were known to be sharing information. Two of the dragons were killed, their lairs looted and destroyed— though one of the Theran behemoths was also destroyed in the process. The third attack on the great dragon Icewing found only an empty lair with anything of value long removed. Convinced that their message had been delivered, Theran merchant guilds sat back and prepared to sell even more protective enchantments. The retaliation was swift and definitive. One evening at sunset, residents of Great
Thera were surprised to see a dragon perched atop the head of Jaron’s Sphinx. While it flew away after a few minutes, twelve Theran citizens were found dead the next morning. Each had agitated for or profited from actions against the dragons. Over the course of the next two weeks, two more strikes resulted in the deaths of two dozen more Theran citizens.  Thom Edro issued notice through diplomatic channels: Therans were to leave the dragons alone. No further raids against dragons were to be authorized or carried out. 

Another conflict developed in the Court at Wyrm Wood. Queen Alachia commanded that no elven nation, and no elf, take advantage of the Theran protective magic. Her Elementalists had developed an alternative, intending to weave the living trees of Wyrm Wood into a kaer that would shelter the Court during the Scourge. Many elven scholars outside the Court disputed the efficacy of Alachia’s plan. While the Theran proposals were not guaranteed protection, a wooden kaer—however much it might be reinforced with elven magic—had little chance of withstanding the physical punishment it was likely to endure. Alachia threatened any elves who followed the Theran rites with Separation. 

Rather than galvanize the elven nations to stand together, the threat of the Horrors outweighed the desire to remain part of so-called true elven culture. Several elven nations refused to follow her decree, greatly weakening the Court’s influence. In the end, Alachia did not follow through on her threat, as the action would have been meaningless in the face of such widespread opposition. It is known that many families left Wyrm Wood during this time, leaving only Alachia’s strongest supporters at the Court. Debate continues to this day as to whether those refugees left of their own free will, or were exiled as a result of speaking out against the queen. For her own part, Alachia decided to demonstrate her wisdom by constructing the Court’s wooden kaer, confident that the wayward nations would come back to the fold after the Scourge was over. 

Many different methods were developed to protect people from the coming invasion of the Horrors, the majority of them based on the Theran rites. The dwarfs of Throal hollowed out most of a mountain for their kaer. Other cities constructed fantastic citadels, inscribing every stone of the city walls with magical runes and raising protective domes crafted of True Elements.
The Theran provincial capital at Parlainth used what is arguably the most extreme method of isolation. The magicians of the city planned to cast a great ritual that would shift Parlainth into a pocket of the netherworlds. To further protect the city, the ritual was designed to remove the memory of the city from the mind of every living person in Barsaive. With no memory of the city, it would remain safe from the Horrors until the Scourge was over.

Thera’s demand for slaves increased during these final decades. Many towns and villages, unable to acquire the resources to construct shelters of their own, sold themselves into Theran slavery for the chance that their descendants would survive. Some kingdoms bankrupted themselves and collapsed trying to protect their citizens. 

Historians place the beginning of the Scourge as the sealing of the Theran citadel. The dwarfs of Throal mark this year as 1008 TH, while the Therans count the year TE 565. As a center and focus of magical energy, the imperial seat was beset by Horrors sooner than the rest of the world. A final message was sent out before the protections were activated, wishing their subjects the best of luck. 

The Theran Empire had largely been responsible for holding together the fraying threads of civilization in the years leading up to the Scourge. Within two decades, virtually all communication between kingdoms was cut off and people were left on their own. Horrors appeared with increasing frequency, with herds of mindless Horrors ravaging the lands, quickly becoming more than a match for local forces, even when supported by powerful adepts.
The dwarfs of Throal were not idle in the final decades before the Scourge. After centuries of administering the province, they knew that six hundred years of isolation could be as devastating to civilization as the Horrors. While the Therans planned for every aspect of physical survival, they did not account for cultural stagnation. The dwarfs created The Book of Tomorrow.

In it they recorded the history of Barsaive and the Theran Empire, along with legends and tales of the past. It also included a guide to the dwarf language and alphabet, so that children could be instructed to read and write a common tongue. The dwarfs provided instructions on common and useful crafts and skills, so that these abilities would not be lost. Finally, The Book of Tomorrow contained instructions on how to tell when the Scourge was over, and how to rebuild and reclaim the surface when that day came. Copies of The Book of Tomorrow were distributed to every kaer and citadel that could be reached, and the dwarfs did what they could to keep their gates open and allow refugees into the kingdom.

Finally, in the year 1050 TH, Throal sealed its kaer and prepared for the worst, as they had little doubt that some Horrors might have managed to enter the kingdom disguised as refugees. Their suspicions were proven correct; at least one battle against a powerful Horror took place in the early days after
the kingdom was closed.

The years of the Scourge brought suffering and hardship, but the will to survive was strong, and people were comforted with the knowledge the Scourge would one day end. While they might never again see the sky, their descendants would reclaim the surface. King Varulus II of Throal, himself a scholar and philosopher, combined common sense with imagination to drive discussion of the future world. Over many years scholars and philosophers, nobles and craftsmen, artists and laborers debated and discussed what an ideal society would look like. 

The resulting document was the Council Compact of 1270 TH. It serves as a blueprint to the formation of a society for both the dwarf Kingdom and its neighbors, laying out individual rights, property rights, and the role of law in society. Among the many notable aspects of the Council Compact is the stance it takes on slavery. After establishing that property rights are necessary for an orderly society, it asks whether people can be property. The conclusion drawn is that the body is the property of the soul that inhabits it, and involuntary servitude—slavery—grants control of the body to the slave owner without compensating the soul. It is, in essence, theft of the body from its rightful owner. 

This philosophical foundation is just one example of how the Council Compact is a rigorously thought-out document intended to develop a fair, orderly society for the benefit of its citizens. Those who wrote the Compact decided that the world after the Scourge would be different than the one before.

The Story So Far

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