July 2015


Much as Vallis was founded by humans after the catastophe that created the Caldera, so too were Morinth’s Delving and Welkor’s Light founded by dwarven and elvish colonists, respectively.

In the north of the Caldera, the dwarven colonists stumbled upon a warren of volcanic caverns and subterranean steam vents created from empty magma chambers. This ready-made dwelling also had access to veins of precious metals, plenty of room for growth, and many avenues of access for trade with both the surface and the Underdark. Within a generation, a powerful line of dwarven dukes had arisen, and for many years they were the primary power within the Caldera. While many of the mines have closed, and other colonies have since eclipsed Morinth’s Delving, Morinth IX still rules over a wealthy and potent kingdom.

Welkor’s Light was an aboveground settlement dedicated to studying the potent magical aftereffects of the calamity that created the Caldera. A fortress set on a wooded crag, it clowly grew to encompass a full-fledged community of elves despite its beginning as a mere research outpost. There was continual tension between Welkor, the leader of the settlement, and the various members of Morinth’s line, each accusing the other of a variety of misdeeds. In time, though, Welkor’s Light became a powerful fortress, capable of withstanding a lengthy siege and a powerful producer of artifacts in its own right.

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The largest human settlement in the Caldera, Vallia is set around the famous hot springs of the same name. Legend has it that a nymph lives in the spring, imparting healing properties to it, and the Baths of Vallia have made immersion in the spring the centerpiece of the town’s economy. The Baths are frequented by the wealthy elderly from Ulat and further south, with some traveling untold leagues for the privilege.

Another attraction is the Demon Arms Inn, a well-kept place of lodging and drinking that has been in the Gora family for generations. Gora the Seventh is currently the proprietress, catering mostly to people wishing to use the hot springs, but there is one other major attraction: Iazgu the Flayer. A demon from the underworld, Iazgu attempted to conquer the far-off outpost of Beamcog but the founder of the Gora line was able to capture his soul gem and bind him to service. Iazgu currently serves as the tireless server and chambermaid of the Demon Arms, and attracts visitors who have never seen such a being before.

Vallia is governed by a Council of Notables, who choose from among their number a Mayor. The qualifications required are somewhat murky–it’s been said more than once that the only way to become a member is to seat yourself and be powerful enough that the guards too frightened to remove you. The current Mayor is Derex Freehold, a major landowner in the farmlands around the city. Other notable members include Gora the Seventh, Kalto Hearthfire the dwarven owner of the general store, Zero the elven smith, Namidine the halfling proprietress of the hot springs, and Ockham the orcish chief of the city guards.

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It came to me slowly, as all great things do.

I had, for many years, marched to a martial beat in the service of others. Or, at least, that is what I had told myself. I gloried in the marching, the brass clusters and percussive taps. It was my structure, my life, the rack on which I hung the baggy canvas sack which my life had become.

In narratives like mine, the chain is always broken by an unlawful order or a massacre, a big evil blade to sever the chain forever. But, as I said, it was a gradual thing.

When you’re in a rut, when you’re relying on orders to fill a void within you that you refuse to address yourself, you notice little things. That robotic adherence to the letter rather than the spirit. That cynical manipulation to get what you want rather than what they meant. And the annoyance of watching the young and the idealists, matched only by the annoyance of watching them wilt into you, into your successors.

Everybody has a point, even if it’s just a fleeting one, in their lives where the straws are piled high enough that they can see the break coming, even if the camel can carry another bale or two. For me, that time came one morning when, as I had done a hundred times before, I had to write somebody up.

Only this time, somthing was different.

Only this time, that somebody…was me.

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Said she: “Why dost thou do this, the selling of tissues? Surely the income thou earnest cannot cover thine costs, not in a time and a city which hast known much of sorrow yet prides itself on never shedding a tear.”

Said he: “It is my lot to soak up the tears of a weeping world. For all they who hold in the weeping for lack of something soft with which to meet their sorrows, I am there. For all those who wish to comfort and dry the tears of their dearest ones, I am there.”

Said she: “But why?”

Said he: “For I have known much of weeping in my own life. I have never turned down a person who sobbed but could not pay.”

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Canto the Fifth

In those caverns deep where no light will dare
The Seeker of Knowledge waits patiently there

With great red-rimmed eyes and features of stone
He seeks to know all and he seeks it alone

Bargains he will make and deals he will strike
For knowledge alone without malice or strife

For that’s what sustains him, that what he craves
All new information stored deep within the caves

But be wary of him and his treasures do shun
For it’s knowledge he gathers but of it he gives none

For the deep set Seeker is where good facts go to die
And you will die too should you meet with his Eye

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By the reckoning of the old Imperial Calendar instituted by the Crimson Empire before it splintered and was annihilated by the Dominion of the New Order, the Creator fell in Its great battle with Muolih, the Spreading Darkness, in the year -10,782. That calendar was later replaced by the Epoch of the Creator reckoning (EC) for most of the former Imperial provinces, to comemorate the great religious awakening that came with the founding of the Sepulcher of the Creator.

Tales and histories, as well as surviving artifacts like the Purposeful Blade of Pexate, indicate that in the old days the forces of magic were much more powerful than they later became. Magicians, cantrips, magical artifacts…they are all well-attested for hundreds if not thousands of years. But no one can deny that magicks are rare and valuable in the latter days, and a careful study of history seems to show a gradual weakening, a slow petering out, of magic across the world since the great struggle between the Creator and Muolih.

This lost Age of Magic or Age of Wonders is held to have come to a close with the founding of the Sepulcher, which began to keep exhaustive records on magic and magic-users. While artifacts–like the aforementioned Purposeful Blade–where made after that point, no one has been able to deny that magic has slowly been disappearing from the world.

Many theories have been proposed for this. Chief among them is that the Creator was the font of all magicks and Its death resulted in the power slowly draining from the world as It dreamed in the process of ultimate Reconstitution. When the Creator rises again, renewed and dreaming no longer, the theory states, magic will be restored to the world. Another theory, popular in some circles of the Sepulcher, holds that magic sprang from Muolih, the Spreading Darkness, and that its disappearance is a good thing.

More prosaic suggestions have been put forth. Magic-bearing ores deep in the earth being depleted by heavy use are a popular one, as is the notion that sapients consume magic in the ambient environment and the population explosion since antiquity has left little to work with. Finally, some deniers insist that magic never existed in the first place outside of myth and that all the artifacts exhibiting magickal properties have rational explanations.

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During the Warring States period, the Sengoku Jidai, when many heroes rose and even more heroes fell, the samurai Kasabuke Daihatsu served the noble daimyō Matsumura-Tamarubuchi. Never far from his daimyō‘s side, Kasabuke was sworn by a blood oath to never let a single drop of rain touch Matsumura-Tamarubuchi. As an umbrella-bearer, he was perhaps the most important member of the daimyō‘s retinue, and as was often the case in those days, many conspired to wet him.

Though Kasabuke would be spared the fate of the umbrella-bearer Matsuoka Akira, who was famously torn apart by wild dogs for plotting to spill tea on Oda Nobunaga, he nevertheless was unable to perform his duty. By treachery, an enemy of Matsumura-Tamarubuchi was able to divert the daimyō into the famous Ame Pass and trap him there during a rainstorm. Drawing his kumbrellatana and his smaller umbrella-to–which could not be returned to their scabbards without being wetted–Kasabuke protected his daimyō from every drop of the ferocious storm. But an enemy umbrella-bearer, sent by the shadowy daimyō Shiame, attacked at that very moment.

The contest was an epic one, the sound of bamboo on bamboo echoing from the mountainside for many hours. But in time, Kasabuke tired and the assassin was able to deflect his aim just enough that a single drop of rain touched the hem of the daimyō‘s kimono.

His honor stained, his master wet, Kasabuke was a broken man–until he swore vengeance. He would not rest until Shiame was not only wet but soaking, and his quest would resound through five hundred years of Japanese history as that of the Umbrella Samurai.

Inspired by this.

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