Twohatman has supplied the second of today’s “in character” Nation proposals for Lore with his nation Adastrum. The creativity on display so far in this project is really heartening and fantastic and like so much every proposal and idea hints at other ideas making this storyworld ever more complex and awesome. I’m loving reading all of this so feel free to submit more.
A report on Adastrum
Midnight in the winter of the central Southern continent. The freezing temperatures and thin air bite into a group of travellers more voraciously than the wolves and wild dogs that their magic has been called upon to fend off – seemingly incessantly – for the past few days. Having traversed the perilous Jactatia Pass into the small border town of Porta, the travellers are glad to see the respite of an inn emerging in the frigid distance. They enter to a depressive, miserable atmosphere; the place feels as though an age has passed since laughter last lapped against its walls. Most of the group begin negotiating for rooms with the landlord at the bar, arranging for their supplies and baggage train to be stored safely overnight. The most junior among them, a young scribe intent on making his mark upon his return, takes the initiative and approaches one of the few customers not already passed out from drink, determined to make his account the most complete of the group.
“Excuse me, sir, is this seat taken?”
The man at the table glances up at the question; tired green eyes peering through matted, blood and dirt encrusted hair. He does not respond. Undeterred, the scribe persists.
“Our group is looking to catalogue the nations of Lore. Few have travelled from our land through the Jactatia Pass – you know the path I speak of?”
Silence again, though something in the glare tells the scribe the man knows plenty about the Pass.
“We lost five slaves making it this far – it would help us greatly if you could tell us what we can expect ahead.”
This elicits a grin from the man; an utterly joyless, world-weary grin. Finally, he leans back and gestures the scribe to take the seat opposite him. The scribe is peripherally aware that his questions have roused the faintest interest from the other, conscious, patrons of the inn, so he decides to sit and attempt to draw no more attention to himself.
When he speaks, the man’s voice is surprisingly deep and clear, as though a trained stage actor were merely playing the part of a filthy, drunken brawler and addressing some close, attentive audience.
“You should go back. The Pass is nothing compared to what prowls these lands; if you are losing numbers already, I suspect you do not have the will to complete your quest. Stay here a while, regain your strength, then go home.”
The scribe snaps back to reality at the finality of the end of the sentence. The man speaks as though he is used to command, clearly adept in the arts of influencing and directing the will of men.
“I’m afraid we will be continuing, sir, although I thank you for your warning. There are powerful mages among our number, I am sure we will be quite safe.”
“Tell that to your slaves”, the man virtually spits back at him.
“I… we couldn’t save everyone. Their deaths were tragic but must not be in vain” he retorted, perhaps too eagerly to be really believable, before he composed himself and continued “Will you tell me of these lands so that we may make their sacrifice more meaningful?”
The man appears to be about to scoff and walk away, before he spots the still half-full flagon of ale on the table. He seems to resign himself to telling an over-told story, settles himself back into his seat and stares directly at the scribe for a few moments before taking a mouthful of ale and beginning his tale.
“Very well, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you a tale of a wondrous land destroyed by the frailties and greed of man and the unnatural worship of magic, of the untold suffering of thousands of children orphaned by war and sold on the streets to feed the addictions of their supposed protectors. Of carnage, rape, murder, treachery, avarice and cruelty on a scale that would turn your scholarly blood cold. Are you sitting comfortably, boy?”
The scribe is again aware that the eyes and ears of others around the inn are focussed on them; he attempts to appear unperturbed and merely inks a quill, ready to take notes. “Please, continue.”
The man looks almost disappointed, then resumes his oration.
“The land you approach goes by the name of Adastrum – that name may have once had a meaning, but that time is long passed now. The Jactatia Pass is one of a few land crossings into the caldera – you know what that means? Good. The caldera is a thousand miles wide, and bears the same name as the… or what was… the nation. The eruption that created it occurred around ten thousand years ago and created something of an oddity in this world; it left the land without the magical elements so abundant elsewhere. You look surprised! I suppose to you the idea of life without magic is as alien as life without air or water, but to those who settled here it became the norm.
For thousands of years men struggled to tame the land – no easy task when you only have your knife and your wits to rely on – but through their toil they prospered and built a great society. We built many cities, learned to study the heavens and the earth, harnessed the natural forces available to us, but more than anything else we learned not to stray beyond the walls of the caldera. The world outside is alien to us – magic… damned magic… corrupts the body and the mind. We knew of its existence of course – travellers would arrive from time to time, as you do now, and view us as I see you do. I see the pity in your eyes. Surely us savages would be only too happy to be shown the ‘wonders’ of magic? Too often their disappointment turned to aggression – they believed themselves superior to us, and many bodies line the mountain passes as a result. Even before… before the war… magic brought us nothing but pain and misery. Many husbands, sons and fathers did not return home because of your world’s damned obsession with magic.
I see you don’t know of any war. Your reactions tell me more than you realize, I’m sure. Hardly surprising I suppose – the mountain walls are so high and inhospitable they say that even mages struggle to cross. I suppose news travels slowly when there is no-one left to carry it. The war began ten years ago. A vein of what you call Ki was discovered in one of the mines in the outer wall – at first we didn’t know what it was, but its nature made itself obvious quickly enough once a trader from the borderlands beyond the wall noticed it among some traded minerals. For a while people experimented with it freely, almost as a curiosity. It made things easy… made the impossible easy… too easy. By the time we realized that a cult had grown up in its worship, it was far too late. It was banned, of course, but by then people were desperate. The supply ran dry and gangs raced to gather more from beyond the wall – so many died in the crossings, so many more died beyond in the unfamiliar world… your world. Few returned, and none brought back anything of consequence. Nothing that could have stopped the madness.”
The scribe reaches for more parchment, and briefly notices that the inn has emptied of almost everyone other than those who are subdued by drink. The landlord stands behind the bar, returning his gaze with a bored indifference; the look of resignation seem to carry more weight given the tale he has been frantically scratching down. He is about to enquire after the rest of his party when he notices the room keys have gone – he must have been listening longer then he thought. The man clears his throat, then continues.
“We fought to save ourselves, you understand. We fought to preserve our way of life. We fought to save our families… our children. You can’t imagine the horrors of neighbour fighting neighbour over a scrap of rock – a few grains of dust. Order collapsed faster than you would think possible – one day the calls for help just stopped being answered. The water stopped, food was hard to find, then impossible to find. Mere rumours of Ki, water and food were enough to raise a mob and ransack peoples houses. Lies, treachery and bloodshed became the daily routine… seeing orphans grasping at the bodies of their parents as they were lynched, or seeing a man driven insane by Ki withdrawl until he clawed out his own eyes… this is what magic did for us… what you did for us.”
The change in tone startles the scribe, making him more than a little uneasy. He ignores the feeling that the landlord at the bar shares the sentiment, and keeps writing.
“Adastrum now is a ruin; a wreck. We live from day to day on what we can scrape together. A few of us still cling to the idea that one day we could rebuild what we once had – but we know there can be no quarter given with magic. Those of us who swear allegiance to the Order have pledged to make Adastrum anew, and this time we will not rely on the ignorance of the outside world as our defence – we will destroy magic wherever we find it, and allow the purity of the human spirit to triumph once again, as it used to… as it did.”
The scribe notices a faraway look in the man’s eye, almost inviting him to leave. He cannot help but ask one last question before he goes to rejoin his party, however.
“Does everyone swear allegiance to the… erm… ‘Order’ you speak of?” he says, consulting his notes to ensure he gets the pronunciation correct.
“No. There are those who still worship the magical elements. They will be destroyed.”
The scribe notices a change in atmosphere once again. He takes this as his cue to leave.
“I… I am sorry for your loss, sir. Before I leave, may I at least know your name?”
“Your notes are quite complete, I trust?” the man asks, evading the question.
“Yes… yes I have everything you said here…” the scribe says, nervously.
“My name is of no consequence to you” the man says as he slowly stands, towering over the scribe. “You should have left when we offered you the chance. It was more than you deserved.”
The scribe barely has time to open his mouth before the man cleaves his head from his shoulders, unsheathing a wickedly sharp short sword in a fluid, almost artistic motion.
Two men enter the inn through a side door, the bitter air whipping the stench of fresh blood through the building and drawing in wisps of smoke from outside. They stoop and gather the body parts, leaving the scribe’s possessions on the table. As they push the door open, light from the rest of the scribe’s party being burned in a shallow trench briefly throws a sickly orange light over the inn’s rafters. Another man enters, dressed in light, bloodied armour.
“Lord Ira, it is done. Your orders?”
The man picks up the pile of parchment from the table, idly flicking through the pages, glancing at the contents.
“I believe this should be sufficient to deter any more casual visitors – see that it is left beyond the Pass, where they will find it.”
“Yes, my Lord.” the armoured man says with a slight bow. He turns and leaves with the papers.
Lord Ira takes a few, broad strides towards the door. He stops on the threshold, glancing back into the gloomy interior. The landlord briefly nods to him, before returning to polishing the cracked, worn bar counter.