A Brief History of Umbraelis

Umbraelis: A Brief History

(from a lecture by Brenjan Mol, Professor of Ancient History, given at Morgrave University, Ul-Solaria, 351 5A)

Long ago, the Elder Ones (also called the Unity of the Four—the Inferni, the Aquis, the Aetheri, and the Ruk) came to the world, fleeing some catastrophe or war in the places where they had dwelt before. They saw the world and it was pleasing to them, so they named it Umbraelis and dwelt therein. The Elder Ones harnessed the elements with magic and created vast cities and other wondrous marvels, the ruins of which still stand today in testament to their power. Such was the Unity’s might that they either created or enslaved many other creatures to serve them in their shining cities and the sages say they even shaped the earth and seas to be more pleasing to their eyes. The Unity lasted for many ages until finally the Doom of the Elder Ones came and utterly destroyed their civilization, leaving naught but ruins and shattered monuments in its wake. What the Doom was no scholars know, although some say it was a war, others a catastrophe caused by their misuse of their magical power, and still others whisper that whatever chased the Elder Ones from their original home found them at last. Whatever the cause, the result was that the Unity was shattered and ruin and darkness came unto the world. Of what wonders they discovered, what wars they fought, or what great magics they both used and discovered only the barest fragments remain, eroded by the passing of centuries and the corruption by lesser beings. This ended the First Age.

After many long years, another civilization rose from the ruins and dominated the world: that of the Aelfin Principalities (or the Aelfini Regnum Umbraelis in their tongue). The Aelfin, always the first among the servants of the Elder Ones, knew the only basest secrets of their former masters but it was more than enough to conquer and dominate the other Servant Races (as they are somewhat insultingly called). They also created cities, wondrous shining citadels of light and glass from which they warred on their fellow princes and the other surviving races of the Doom. Finally, in their arrogance the Aelfin attempted to utterly destroy all of the other Races and a great war—called the First War—was fought between the Aelfin princes and an alliance of all of the other so-called Servant Races: the Dwelv (ancestors of the dwarves), the Gnymish (gnomes), the Hi-Gorreki (ancestors of today’s goblins and hobgoblins), the Ork-imani (orcs), the Ogrus (ogres), and the Tauren chieftains of the High Steppes, who had always been free but were deemed unfit by the Aelfin nonetheless. After many long years of slaughter and ruin, the alliance finally captured and burned the last of the Aelfin citadels and their shining civilization of light and glass was shattered and destroyed, the survivors fleeing for their lives into the mountains and hidden places of the world. Thus the Second Age ended.

The alliance of the Servant Races did not long survive the destruction of the Aelfin Principalities, and in an act of treachery the Hi-Gorreki and Ogrus turned on their fellow races and drove them back to their homelands with great slaughter. The dwarves retreated to their impregnable Fortress-Cities while the orcs and gnomes scattered to the wastes, avoiding the constant patrols of the new Dhakaani Empire only by becoming nomadic tribes. The Tauren were driven to the brink of extinction and have not been seen in large numbers in Umbraelis ever since. The hatred the dwarves, gnomes and orcs feel towards the descendants of the Empire burns hot to this day, many centuries later. The Dhakaan created an empire governed by strict castes and supported by a network of enslaved peoples. This Empire created vast cities of brass and iron, obsidian and hard black basalt, and lasted 1000 years almost to the day. Finally, in the waning days of the Dhakaani Emperium when the Iron Emperors were weak and cruel beyond measure, new peoples arose to challenge these harsh rulers. In the South, the Lizardfolk swarmed out of the sea and reduced the Dhakanni coastal fortresses to smoking ruins, while in the far, icy north a series of strange portals opened, disgorging a mass of tall humanoids swathed in furs and metal and what looked like large numbers of children: the humans and their halfling kin had arrived, fleeing the destruction of their world by strange energies. The wars which followed were as brutal as any which Umbraelis had ever seen, with slave revolts and attacks by one side on the other (the dwarves, orcs, and gnomes joined in to revenge themselves on their betrayers) until finally the back of the Dhakaani resistance was broken and the remnants of the Iron Emperor’s court fled to their last mountain fortresses to brood and plot against the Free Folk. The Third Age ended with the brass-and-iron cities of the Dhakanni smoking and ruined and new towns spreading across the land inhabited by a mixture of human tribes and kingdoms, dwarven clanforts, and other settlements by the various victorious races.

The Fourth Age was a time of great upheaval and chaos as the various kingdoms and petty empires warred with each other. Cities were built and destroyed, potent magic was discovered and promptly used against the nearest enemy—usually resulting in the utter destruction of both parties, and plagues and other natural disasters swept through the chaotic mix of political groupings that dominated the continents. Despite, or perhaps because of this turmoil, the Forth Age saw leaps in knowledge and innovation that went in directions neither the Dhakaani nor the Aelfin were able to master (primarily the use of bound elementals to power various magical engines and devices) and although there was much suffering and bloodshed, there was also much to commend this time. Perhaps this relentless seeking of knowledge and power, this endless quest to rediscover and improve upon the past magics of the Dhakaani, Aelfin, and even the First Ones was what caused the Coming of the Mists (or the Great Devouring as some call it) but it is just as likely that the knowledge amassed during those turbulent 600 years enabled the Free Folk to survive, if just barely. Regardless of what caused it, the Great Devouring ended the Fourth Age with the death of the majority of Free Folk and the retreat of the stunned survivors into the Redoubt Cities of today.

The Great Devouring which ended the Fourth Age started in the dark spaces between the widely scattered dwarven clanforts deep beneath the earth. Rumors of missing caravans and mining parties circulated amongst the surface races, soon followed by alarming reports of entire clanforts being overrun, their populations vanished seemingly into the darkness itself. There were many who scoffed at these stories, dismissing them as wild tales told by and to drunken fools, but then the steady stream of dwarven refugees fleeing from below became a torrent and even the most stubborn commentators of the Age realized that something was amiss in the darkness beneath their feet. And then, more alarmingly, the flood of refugees abruptly stopped and nothing else came from the yawning darkness beneath the earth. Several expeditions were launched into the depths to see what had happened and many more ‘unofficial’ groups also ventured below to loot the riches of the hastily abandoned clanforts; all vanished without a trace.

As the months wore on, the various political powers bickered amongst each other about what should be done (if anything) and who or what was at fault for this disaster. The dwarves were blamed by many, but they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) offer any explanation for what had befallen them. All they knew is that the darkness seemed to come alive with whispers and a terrible hunger, and it had utterly destroyed their cities in a matter of a few years except for some scattered fortresses high in the mountains.

And then whatever it was came up from the darkness. As the surface races argued and blamed each other and engaged in lengthy discussions of what they should do, strange mists began seeping from the earth at night and travelers abroad after sundown began disappearing. The effect of this was immediate: panic. Cities barred their gates and refugees swarmed around their walls, begging for shelter until night fell and the screams began. Armies marched forth and vanished into the night, panic stricken hordes rushed wildly towards any place of rumored safety only to find that the darkness followed them like a predator following its prey. The mists began rising inside city walls, seeping from sewers and basements regardless of how well they had been sealed and the civilization of the Free Folk began falling in terror and fire. What was worse than this was what started lurching out of the mists at night, people recognized loved ones and friends who had vanished and now returned. Something hungry now looked out of their black eyes, and they were consumed with a voracious hunger for the living. The Changed Ones grew in number until entire cities fell to their ravenous attacks, burnt and consumed by their own citizens from within. Strangely, livestock and beasts were not effected, only creatures with the spark of intelligence in them vanished or Changed. Nothing seemed to stem this tide, and all magics and knowledge seemed to fail in the face of this relentless and yet unseen assault.

Into this madness came Vincelian ap Thorbaradin, an ancient elven scholar with family roots back to the ruling Aelfin aristocracies of old. After losing his entire family to the Devouring and having to kill several of them after they had Changed, he made his way to the great city of Ul-Solaria (a place still largely untouched by the catastrophe unfolding around it) and disappeared into the Great Library at Morgrave University. After a few years, he returned with the salvation of the Free Folk and has been hailed as their savior ever since.

This salvation came in the form of etchings from an ancient First Folk ruin in the far north, an etching of a series of strange runes and symbols which seemed not only to generate light, but also repel the mists and the Changed. When done correctly, these Warding Runes provided protection from the Devouring. This knowledge, spread in large part by the rulers of Ul-Solaria, soon made its way to the remaining cities and from there to those towns and villages that still survived. Finally, the mists were held at bay and although the Free Folk were sadly diminished (roughly 1-in-5 lived), at least they survived.

Now, civilization resides in the Ten Cities (including the Lost City, which none have seen for a century or more), vast metropolis’ and their attendant farming towns and villages, all protected by intricately wrought Warding Runes. The Ten Cities (also known as the Redoubt Cities) are linked by the Trade Roads, well travelled tracks with Warded and fortified waystations scattered along their length to protect travelers from the darkness. Civilization, it seems, has stabilized and survived, but it is a survival that is tenuous at best, a survival which is constantly tested and gnawed at by the all-consuming darkness that surrounds us. It remains to be seen if we have been saved, or merely our postponed our doom by hiding behind our Warded walls. Walls which are not only constantly tested by the mists without, but also by the tangled ambitions, fears, and hatreds of the population within. We have survived for over three hundred years; it remains to be seen if we will survive for 300 more or if the clawing mists will claim us at last.

A Brief History of Umbraelis

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