Let’s start at the beginning.
At first, there was nothing. A moment later, there was everything. In the great cataclysms of creation, the First Four were born: Ytar, God of Fire. Ather, God of Air. Emitaf, God of Water. And Ogun, God of the Earth. For a thousand years, they would dance across the universe, creating all the cosmic beauty and desolation within.
As they danced with each other, they birthed more Deities. Ytar and Ather had Siforr (God of the Sun), while Ogun and Emitaf brought forth the the trickster Ius (God of the Moon). It was under the spell of the Moon that Emitaf and Ather did meet, creating Yala (God of Life) and Mordukai (God of Death). This infidelity shattered their divine House, and sent the First Four into the corners of the universe, as far from each other as they each could manage. It was there they would remain, agreeing that there were to be no more Gods.
Mordukai, the God of Death, was more than happy to oblige this decree – but his sister Life would not be so restrained.
She danced with Siforr and summoned the sisters Ova (God of Beasts), Radia (God of Will), and Wodea (God of Plants). She danced with the Moon and conjured the brothers Ocarus (God of Dreams), Etos (God of Peace), and Pelios (God of Emotion). Because she was Life, she loved the lives of her children. Because she was their mother, she taught them to love and to dance.
Wodea and Ocarus grew trees so tall that their skin turned hard as iron and divinity was trapped within their branches. The trees filtered this power into their roots, creating Xunos (God of the Wild), who in turn brought forth the Elves to tend her new garden. Radia was seduced by Etos and Pelios, calling forth Lordros (God of Fate) and Voara (God of Force), respectively. Ova and Ocarus brought forth Vistrix (God of Chaos), Shakti (God of Illusion), and Epona (God of Knowledge).
The Trickster Moon lay with many of his grandchildren. Voara bore him Rapel (God of Magnetism), while his union with Epona summoned Kalos (God of Invention). The Gods of Magnetism and Invention would later combine their power and forge Dwarves from stone and magic. Vistrix was Ius’s favorite, and their millennia-long tryst gave birth to Ceato (God of the Sea), Atuna (God of Magic) and Jodar (God of Luck).
Ova was wild, as beasts often are, and the sons of Ius were seduced by her life made flesh. Ova and Etos allowed for Tir (God of Travel), Sah (God of the Astral Plane) and Mivia (God of Time). Ova and Pelios shook the heavens with their love, and called forth seven children: Gaidir (God of Sport), Valhena (God of Strength), Cenos (God of Speed), Udea (God of Vitality), Auras (God of Sound), Vodon (God of War) and Hilo (God of Flight).
Radia and Etos recoiled in horror at the disorder wrought by their siblings’ children and lay together to bring about Barros (God of Order).
The families squabbled, as families are wont to do, but the Gods maintained a delicate balance by agreeing to return to the First Law: no more Gods. And for ten thousand years, there were none.
THE BIRTH OF KHALGUN
Siforr was the first of the children to claim his domain. His ambition shone white and hot, forcing even Ytar to veil her eyes. At that moment he stole a single flame from his mother and used it to give birth to the Sun.
Ogun was enraged by both the petty theft and arrogance of the young god and drew together every spec of dust that cast a shadow. He combined this mass to form the first planet and mocked Siforr from its shadows.
Weary of her brother’s conceit, Emitaf summoned a year of storms as she wove a net of clouds and lighting around the planet, drowning rock and stone beneath miles of ocean.
Ather was delighted by these waters but missed singing along the peaks of his brother’s mountains. He raced along the sea with arms spread wide, parting the water and dredging the seabed so Ogun might once again see the stars. Shaken from his watery slumber, the God of Earth grew his lands ever taller until they towered above ocean once more.
Most of the planet remained water, and Ius danced on these oceans, his ivory skin gleaming in the Sun’s brilliance. His dances were nearly as beautiful as himself, and his litheness entranced the Gods long enough for him to siphon off a bit of each of their Divinity.
He used this stolen power to draw an alien body, dense and obscure, far from beyond the Sun’s watchful light. Ius cloaked the skies with clouds, concealing the meteor’s approach, and sent the twisted mass of ore and rock crashing into the planet. The catastrophic impact evaporated the oceans and toppled mountains as the meteor carried straight through the earth, exploding from the opposite side in a raging mass as white and hot as the sun. When this ball cooled, it formed the moon.
As the heavenly bodies settled and storms returned oceans to the earth, Yala brought life to the planet in wild, reckless abundance.
Every kind of flower, plant, and tree took root. Every type of fish, whale, and serpent splashed into the sea. Every creature that walked upon and flew above the land now poured over it. Yala saw all this and gave no pause. Instead, the God of Life set about combing what she had made. Owls that were also bears, horses that took flight upon feathered wings, and great dragons who could assume any form and whether any height or depth.
The Gods paused their bickering as they marveled upon the chaotic wonder Yala wrought. Then they too forged life from this new world.
The Elves came first, emerging from the roots of the vast Ironwood as their massive canopies captured Divinity from the Weave and birthed the first Wild Elves as their eternal defender. They were born under the light of the moon and were thus claimed by Ius. The God of the Moon was delighted by the Elves and danced with them, gifting them divine beauty and long life.
The sons of Ogun (God of Earth), Kalos (God of Invention) and Rapel (God of Magnetism), sought to replicate this divine birth. They combined magic with their natural Divinities and forged the first Dwarves out of rock and stone. The other Gods saw these new beings as crude and ugly compared to the Elves and chased them back into the mountains of their birth. This rejection made the Dwarves bitter towards the other races of mortals and set them on a path for centuries of conflict.
When the first tribe of Elves stole magic from the Dwarves to counter their constant warring, the Gods were shocked by the brazen theft. They cursed the first Elves, drained their skin of pigment and cast them out of their forests and into the blasted desert. Ius fooled the Gods, hiding his Elves under moonlight and guiding them to the protection of the limestone cliffs they still call home.
Other races followed, but none were as prolific as the humans, hyper-evolved from apes through a century of divine meddling. The Elves called these creatures “Khalkhi (KAL-key) Ogun,” or “Children of Ogun” as a mockery to their crude birth.
Over the millennia this became “Khalgun (KAL-gun),” and the first planet found her name.
ZAVAN, GOD OF MAN
Dwarves were the first race to be given magic, as they were jealous of the Elves and their millennia of life. They became fierce guardians of this new power, which they used to create great feats of architecture and technology. Once their towering Dwarven halls could be made no more magnificent, they set about shaping the world.
Centuries of dominance made many of the Dwarves as selfish and petty as the Gods. The Elves eventually grew tired of their constant warring and stole the secrets of magic from them, teaching the knowledge to the others races to restore balance. Enraged, the Dwarves declared themselves the enemy of all races of people, and the Hundred Years War began.
As death and turmoil spread across the land without intervention, humanity grew distant from the Gods. The great human city of Ani rapidly expanded as more and more people fled to the walls of the Capital to seek reprieve from constant violence. The city prospered, a shining light in the darkness that threatened to consume all. People began to idolize human creations over the Divinity of the Gods.
When the millionth person was born inside Ani’s sprawling slums, society also birthed its first God – a brave and noble human warrior known as Zavan. Now an omnipotent being blessed with the practicality and impatience of a mortal, Zavan immediately set about improving Ani, raising towering walls that carried magically purified water along the tops of its ivory embattlements. He dug a great canal that brought this water into the heart of the city, blessing its inhabitants with good health and bountiful crops.
With the Capital in order, Zavan set about ending the Hundred Years War and unifying the five kingdoms under his rule. In just over a decade he brought the races and cities under a single banner, forging the most powerful empire the world had ever seen.
The speed at which the God of Man worked, combined with the ease at which he wielded his new Divinities within his realm, terrified the old Gods and goaded them into swift action (swift for immortal beings, at any rate). A pact formed from an unlikely cabal of Siforr, Xunos, Vodon, Vistrix, Voara, and Barros. On the first day of the sixteenth year of Zavan, they attacked at once, intent on killing the God of Man with a single strike.
What they had not planned on was Death finally taking a lover. They had certainly not expected how fiercely he would fight to protect him. The titanic conflict that ensued quickly spilled across the entire pantheon as each Deity was forced to chose a side.
The Great Godswar had begun. It would barely last an hour.
THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD
As the Gods battled for control over the mortal realm, they tore the planet asunder. Millions of creatures perished within minutes as divine energies not seen since the creation of the universe were harnessed as sword and shield.
In the final moments of the hour-long war, Zavan gave his life defending the five nations. Siforr struck at him again and again, sundering the land with earthquakes and volcanos. To save the city of Ani, Zavan sacrificed a third of Kadar and much of the countryside surrounding the capital city as it sank beneath of the waters of a new inland sea. In his dying moments, Zavan flooded the Bridge and linked with every citizen of his empire, desperately searching for an heir. He found Jakub Kladivo, a simple farmer from southern Kadar. Zavan willed his waning divinity into his arms and armor, and then bestowed these artifacts to Jakub, anointing him as the Godking of the Five Kingdoms.
As the storm that had engulfed the entire world bore down on the Five Kingdoms, Zavan gathered the raging magical forces and used them to form a permanent barrier and shielded the ravaged nations from total annihilation. The staggered survivors set about extinguishing fires, clearing sodden fields and rebuilding what they could of their former lives.
The five kingdoms sent explorers to every edge of the World Storm on land and sea. Those that returned reported a swirling, impassable wall of wind and lighting over a mile high, and so dense with dirt and debris that vision stopped soon after the storm’s edge. Others reported enormous, winged beasts darting in and out of the tops of the storm clouds. After a decade of search and scholarly debate, the leaders of the new world came to a grim conclusion: the Godswar had destroyed the entire world, save for a broken, scorched, drowned continent shielded from oblivion by the dying oath of the last God.
With a sea now separating the Five Kingdoms and a demigod unwilling to use his new powers to force compliance, the union of nations quickly broke apart. The Capital City of Ani remains fiercely loyal to their Godking, safe within their unassailable walls. The South was split in two with the rocky, forested East returning to ancient royal bloodlines to keep peace, and the fertile West breaking into a dozen fiefdoms loosely united under an elected council.
The largest and most northern of the five kingdoms fell into decades of anarchy as famine and disease ran rampant. Out of this chaos a Priesthood arose whose acolytes preached mortal solidarity – foolish, petty Gods destroyed this world, so man should reject all things Godly.
This order sent Inquisitors to every corner of their broken nation, bringing relief in the form of food, supplies, and labor. Their priests carried gems mined from deep within the Dwarven Capital of Gal-Hadir that glowed in reaction to the presence of magic. They used these stones to collect and destroy items infused with magic and repurposed enchanted weapons to forge anti-magic Bane Swords.
Imbuing the last of his Divinity into his possessions and arms, Zavan passed on tremendous power to Jakub Kladivo, a humble but bright young farmer from the Northern Kingdom. His inherited sword, armor, cloak, rings, boots, helmet, gauntlets, belt and tabard were artifact-level items, instantly transforming him into the world’s last Demigod.
After a period of adjustment to near-Godhood, Jakub set about putting the great city of Ani in order. He established a ruling council staffed half by public vote and half by royal bloodline. The throne secure, he turned his attention to the shattered remains of his once proud kingdom.
Though hunger would claim many over the next decade, Jakub was able to organize a fleet of relief vessels in an attempt to stem the starvation. And while their most fertile lands had been lost to the scorching rays of the Sun, ash from the Burning Eye caused areas in the North to flourish.
An island chain formed by lava in the Godswar became a haven for the root vegetable staples of the North. Admiral Yosef Kadar claimed these islands for the people and turned what was left of his navy into a national farming relief effort. To foster peace, Jakub gifted a hundred ships to Admiral Kadar, allowing him to suppress the various warlords that had carved up the North and spread humanitarian aid to all in need.
In the 33rd year after the Breaking of the World, the Empire of Kadar was officially chartered. Twenty-two years later, the Empire would declare war on the Godking. Backed by the technology of the Northern Dwarves, a powerful navy, and gold from Ryzan, Kadar invaded the South.
Their superior numbers and equipment allowed Kadarian troops to overwhelm the Republic of Wessle followed quickly by much of Eastern Brenus. The dwarves of the East stood in opposition to their world-conquering brethren and forged an alliance with the Elves of the Ironwood and the Humans of the Highgrass Plains, and held the invading army at the Voiceless Peaks.
Desperate to break the stalemate, Kadar agreed to begin transferring the magical items, armor, and equipment they gathered during the Southern Campaign to Gal-Hadir. Weapons were still reserved for the crafting of new Bane Swords, but all other items were turned over to the dwarves. They broke them down in massive lava forges and used the raw magical elements to create horrific stone and metal constructs that feed Kadar’s war machine.
Though pressed hard, the Eastern front held due in no small part to the clans of Ents and Trolls that lumbered out of their forests and marshes to meet these inhuman giants eye-to-eye. The battle was turned, and within a year Royal forces loyal to Ani would take the Highlands of Kadar, and establish their will over the banks of Ryzan. Without gold to fund the war, Kadar had no choice but to agree to a peace accord in the 48th year since the Breaking of the World.
THE FIFTY YEAR PEACE
Sufficiently cowed by King Kladivo’s combined forces (as well as his ever-increasing God-like might), the Kadarian Empire agreed to peace, mostly on the capital’s terms. They would rejoin the greater empire not as subjects of the King, but as a voice in a representational Senate.
Each of the Five Kingdoms would be provided votes in the Senate equal to one for every ten thousand of their citizens (A census is taken every ten years, led by royal soldiers from Ani with delegates from each of the Kingdoms). King Kladivo would rule as Emperor of this government, with the ability to veto any proposed legislation. The Senate can override this royal veto with a two-thirds majority vote.
With democracy established (as well an excuse to keep troops in every corner of the empire on a continual basis), Jakub reigned over fifty years of peace, interrupted only by occasional terrorist actions from pockets of Kadarian loyalists.
While Ani remains both popular and influential, Kadar retains much of its influence over Ryzan, as well as an unrivaled Navy and Army.
THE REPUBLIC OF WESSLE
The heart of Wessle boasts hundreds of square miles of flat, lush farmland fed by a web of rivers and lakes that allow the country to serve as the breadbasket for the rest of the known world. Composed of thirteen independent states, the Republic is ruled by a council that shares both power and responsibility for the nation as a whole, distinguishing it as the only true representative democracy within the Five Kingdoms (even as a handful of the states withhold that freedom from their citizens).
Aside from sharing matters of politics and trade, the states remain largely independent, claiming separate currency, traditions, and laws. Several nations carefully guard their borders, requiring travelers to carry various documents (or a purse full of golden bribes) to gain passage.
The capital of Tidewatch serves as both national government and major trade hub for the Republic, centering most of the nation’s power in the North while the majority of food production (and resulting wealth) resides in the South.
The continent of Wessle is a rich cornucopia that stretches across all the lands of the North. To the South, thick, old forest choked with underbrush spread across the land before the leafy canopy gives way to the oppressive, humid rot of a vast boiling swamp known as the Southern Wetlands. A network of vents pumps primordial gases into the marsh, killing nearly all life within as the heated water belches plumes of acidic gas.
What trees remain have tendrils of bleached roots that snake along the surface for hundreds of feet in all directions, erupting from the leafless mass of a mottled, gray trunk. The settled lands of the North make up the bulk of Wessle’s humanoid population, each sharing equal representation on the Council of Thirteen.
Beyond the verdant, rolling crests of southern mountains lies the Gloom, a mostly uninhabited swath of rainforest and swampland stretching from coast to coast. Travel further south and grass gives way to rock and grit as the Sand Hills rise to meet the towering, ash-black walls of the Coalspine.
Sun and wind conspire to scour the southern hills leaving them largely dry and barren, inhabitable only by tribes of orcs that have sought refuge in its punishing bleakness. Of these outcasts, two majors centers of power have arisen: the relatively peaceful orcs of Clan Flatrock, and the bloodthirsty raiders of Clan Deathhammer.
Ankara is a large quarter-circle of windswept plains met on her eastern edge by a series of low, rolling hills. Coarse, yellow grasses that support several species of herding animals cover gently sloping mounds in thick blankets. The lands around the capital of Siran are well known for both their superior horses and the masterful riders who tame them.
Fifteen-foot-tall boars called Granta dominate the north of Ankara. Standing as tall as an elephant, Grantas gather in close-knit families that actively protect one another and share in the responsibility of raising their young. The beasts are feared as much for their raw physical might as their cleverness.
Slavery is illegal in Ankara, which formed from a slave rebellion after the most recent invasion from Kadar. It is the only republic to offer sanctuary to escaped slaves, though they will extradite anyone who commits crimes beyond those necessary to free themselves from captivity, a frequently exploited loophole.
Sharing a southern border with Ankara, Varna also shares their Grantas as the lumbering boars migrate across their lands to drink at a long, deep freshwater scar known as Loch Van. Many speak of a beast that lives in this frigid darkness, though only a handful claims to have seen its gargantuan, hunched form slip beneath the murky waters. The vast hills are choked with thick, waxy leaves that fan out from a blood red center to a dark purple with a strip of ivory along the edge. The plants are as tough as burlap and extrude a vicious sap if cut or burned. Passing through them reduces speed to one-quarter movement and passage with horses or wagons is impossible.
Further east lie the impossible Indigo Hills Jungle, a rainforest dominated by three trees: the Black Alder, which mainly lives at the forest edges, in swamps, and along riverside corridors; swathes of Ivory Beeches, tall, slender trees with white bark that flakes off and rolls to reveal a deep navy; and equally large groves of stirge nests, also know as Sweet Chestnuts. These trees get their name from the nest-like fibers that surround clusters of blood-red nuts that resemble the roost of a stirge. The blood-sucking creatures live in abundance at these woods and use the trees as natural camouflage to hatch their young.
At her far southern border, the Indigo Hills rise out of the vegetation to form a series of towering stone pillars, the largest stretching 2,000 feet into the sky. This monolith is known to the locals as Beyazit Kulesi, or the Fire Tower, and is what remains of the core of an ancient volcano. Deep underground chambers once filled with molten rock have long gone cold and brittle, their walls invaded as subterranean lakes broke to the surface in huge gouts of water that formed the mouths of two mighty rivers: the Asi to the East and the Asta to the West.
The warm, wet lands of Shumen are home to a series of fruit-bearing forests that cover the Republic and are known collectively as the Southwind Orchards. Plums and dates dominate the North while peaches, pomegranates, and sweet cherries form thick canopies in the South and East. Loquats grow wild across Shumen, attracting Granta herds in the early winter who travel south just as the clusters of pear-shaped, two-inch-long fruits are in full bloom.
The fruits are yellow to orange, depending on how mature the plant, and when ripened deepen to a waxy crimson. The succulent, tangy flesh is white, yellow or orange, again, depending on the age of the plant, and acidic to very sweet. The capital of Baguna is an active shipping port as seasonal torrential rains make transporting wagons burdened with heavy loads of fruit nearly impossible.
Close to half of the landlocked Republic of Vratza is composed of the Tuzla Wetlands, a marsh dominated by thick clumps of mangrove trees. The capital Gale strides the mighty Asta, the towers of her cathedrals carved from the sheer bedrock that split the river in two. The people of Vratza have long been worshipers of Mivia, a belief held most strongly by the rural population of the South who live along the edges of her lakes and rivers.
In late Sifan, those who remain faithful journey deep into the heart of the Tuzla Wetlands in search of a type of Mangrove tree named for the God herself. These Mivia Mangroves grow smaller than the rest with pale lime green seed clusters that form deep within its tangled mass of roots. The seed pods remain submerged for all but two weeks of their production. When the water levels lower, their waxy, waterproof shell dries out and falls away, revealing a downy, yellow fluff that covers the ivory fruit, used both for its medicinal and intense psychoactive properties.
Creatures that consume the seeds are said to see snippets of their both past and future from within dreams that merge with their waking conscious. Continued use of the seeds is said to lead to blindness and madness.
The grand city that houses the capital of Wessle, as well as her Council of Thirteen, sits in the North of this lush grassland that bends east to gently cup the Kingsea with long beaches of shimmering white sand known as the Mooncoast. Rolling gently before the amber towers of Sunsea is her Golden Bay, a tranquil spearhead of clear water protected on both sides by rocky inlets that narrow when it meets the Kingsea.
A pair of watch towers carved from crystalline amber are lit at all times by huge braziers, creating an illusion that they are twin columns of orange flame. This magic gives the Pillars of Siforr their name, while also providing ships sailing at night a pair of shining beacons by which to safely navigate the waters surrounding Tidewatch.
While not as prosperous as the lands of the Godsfield to the South, pigs, oxen, and sheep grow fat from her endless grassy hills and abundant schools of fish that pool just off her shores. Rivers tumble out of the Indigo Hills and spill across her thick forests to gather in a narrow, warm lake that runs clear all the way to the bottom. Algae from fallen logs that crisscross the turquoise lake bed combined with travertine that seeps into the water from surrounding hot springs. This mix forms a rainbow sheen that ripples across the surface in waves, mimicking the lights that appear in the night skies of Northern Kadar.
The lake swells in the wet season and cascades over its steep eastern bank to form miles of mighty falls, some hundreds of feet high, which tumble down lush spillways to create dozens of smaller, crystal-clear pools. A series of these ponds form chains before joining a churning river that crosses the border into Vratza, eventually emptying into the Tuzla Wetlands. The highest and most powerful of these cascading waterways are named after the God of Time. The water that thunders over her soaring edge conceals a shrine to Mivia that can only be entered if the pounding falls are held back.
Twin bay side cities of Kestle and Koru were rich fishing towns that quickly grew into thriving metropolises. They are in constant rivalry with one other, most of which is in the form of open, healthy competitiveness, but other feuds are solved by less noble means. Both cities are rife with slavers, the latter being legal in seven of the thirteen Republics, and out of those that prohibit it, only Ankara provides a haven for escaped slaves, though the trade is more openly practiced in Koru. Captured orcs and nationless humans are shipped from the Free Lands of the South to work the plantations of the North.
One of the largest and richest of the Thirteen Republics, Kondassa claims much of the fertile lands of the Godsfield Valley, cradling the Western Calm at her southern border and Tuzla Wetlands to the North. Goldhill sits in the heart of the Republic, nestled at the feet of Cotton Mouth Lake, a winding body of freshwater spawning several rivers that nourish the farmlands of Wessle. It is a sprawling metropolis that serves as the capital of Kondassa as well as a major trade hub for most of the inner continent.
Slavery is openly practiced in the Republic and used as a primary form of punishment for dozens of offenses. Kondassa is ruled by the family after which she is named who purchased the land nearly four-hundred years ago, buying their way to a throne they could not otherwise acquire. Vast fields of grain, corn, wheat and soybeans, staples of the staples of the Wesslean diet and major exports to the rest of the Five Kingdoms, covers most of the land. Cotton, Milkweed, and a variety of herbs and grasses that have medicinal or hallucinogenic properties, and frequently both, are found far to the West.
Across the mighty Sakara River from Kondassa lies Haskovo, the richest of all the Thirteen Republics. Her soil is enriched by minerals that flow from underground springs around the northern foothold of the Li-Gun Mountains known to humans as Mount of the Forest. Rice grown in mineral-rich paddy fields here is particularly flavorful and desired all over the Five Kingdoms.
Aside from rice, Haskovo yields mostly wheat and soybeans, with mandarins, sugarcane and a variety of seeds: sesame, sunflower, and rapeseed being the most popular spread across the North. The city of Hogsfeet is the core of livestock trade for much of Wessle and the host of an annual celebration to the Demigod Grunta, Lady of all Swine. The week-long festival concludes with High-harvest, a day celebrated across all of the Kingdoms as the height of summer plenty, a time for revelry and gluttony.
The Republic of Lom juts out sharply from Wessle, splitting the Tranquil Bay from the Kingsea. Her ivory cliffs mark the nearest shore to the Kingdom of Brenus, and on a clear day, the imposing sandstone walls of the Brackenhill Citadel are visible across the twenty-two mile wide channel.
The small Republic is dominated by two key features: the Goldwood, a forest abundant in rich citrus fruits that encompasses much the North, and the Grain Vault. Constructed soon after the Godswar, the Vault is connected to the winding Vedi River through a system of locks, allowing grain barges to safely bypass dangerous rapids and gain quicker access to the Kingsea.
The largest of the Thirteen Republics, Razgrad commands a broad expanse from the southern shores of the Western Calm, through the Mistwood and the Southern Wetlands right up to the footholds of the Free Lands of the South. The western edge of Razgrad rises to form a long wall of high cliffs that face the jagged spires of Blackfang Bay, a known haven for pirates and smugglers.
Thornhill Tower stands on the highest point and serves as an early warning system for raiders seeking to pillage her towns and villages along the eastern shore. Aside from these smaller communities, the only major city in Lom is Quito, a fishing mecca and final port of call on the Western Calm. Quito is a wild port populated with all measure of races and creatures and restrained by few laws.
Nearly 300 centuries ago the regular order of Gal-Hadir was thrown into chaos when clan Stoneburner, of which not a single Dwarf had been seen in almost 300 years, returned to re-establish their birthright among the great northern houses. Wielding strange magics and advanced technology, the Dwarves of Clan Stoneburner quickly ousted the ruling Knights of Vel-Duram, exiling them both from the continent that would one day be known as Kadar.
The knights had wandered for years before they arrived at Li-Gun, a steep, forking mountain range covered nearly to the peaks in trees and underbrush. They set to climbing her and discovered a mighty subterranean river that burst from the northern face and tumbled into the Eastern Calm. It was here they built a new city and named her for their order. The city of Vel-Duram grew rich, and some of her neighbors took notice.
Orc raiding parties took to attacking supply caravans traveling through Razgrad en route to the eastern port city of Quito. These attacks increased in boldness and brutality, eventually leading to a war that would continue for decades. The orcs were never able to take the mountain city, and the Dwarves were never able to drive the orcs from their caves. Though the Knights fought fiercely against the Kadarian invaders centuries later, they were once again beaten into submission by the magics and advanced technology of their northern brothers.
As per Kadarian custom, those that survived were sold off as slaves. The halls of Vel-Duram were stripped bare of their treasures, and the city was cast, stone by stone, to the deep pool of water beneath the cascading falls. When the war was over, many of the freed Knights returned to Li-Gun to rebuild their city, an effort that continues to this day.
Today nearly three hundred Knights live and toil on Li-Gun, painstakingly recovering every stone from the depths beneath Li-Gun falls to rebuild their once great city. They started with the massive open air temples to Auras, the old God of Sound.
The Dwarves sliced off the highest peaks of Li-Gun creating a series of flat, stone pavilions set before half-dome amphitheaters, each perfectly arranged and attuned to amplify the voices of any onstage. Each Oathday morning, the Knights take to these stages and sing to the clouds, their rumbling notes carrying for miles.
In the days just before the Godswar, several of the Knights had visions of Auras’ death and resurrection among the mountains. Half a century after the world burned, one among their number was revealed as his successor.
From the moment his lungs had a voice, Ymir Wheelwright was recognized as the arisen God of Sound. His first cries so were so clear and pure they brought tears to all in attendance.
After Ymir had been recognized, the Knights of Vel-Duram grew far more insular to keep him safe as his abilities manifested. He has grown to be a handsome, talented singer who uses his voice as his bardic instrument.
The small Republic of Kubrat lies pressed between the Eastern Calm and the Li-Gun mountains. The capital city Jaffra rests on the shores of a quiet inlet and serves mainly as a convenient port of trade for the dwarves rebuilding Kalimore.
The Republic of Silistra also juts out far into the Tranquil Bay, the gleaming emerald tower of Feylight standing boldly at the water’s edge. Feylight sits at the mouth of the Eastern Calm, a shallow abundant in sea life that provides the towns and cities that ring its beaches and cliffs a bounty to exploit.
In early Sifan, the Whipweed that chokes the waters around Feylight all produce their seeds in a single, mesmerizing, week-long event. Millions and millions of tiny glowing seeds rise to the surface of the water and crack one, revealing a dozen feathery stems that are picked up by the wind and carried along the water’s surface, each glowing in turn. The seeds attract birds, bats, fish, and other creatures that eat the seeds and spread them across the South.
The sprawling Republic of Lovech is largely a country in name only. Much of her lands are uninhabitable. The Gloom, a dangerous and impassable forest, the Southern Wetlands infested with giant crocodiles and trolls, and the ruins and land around Lake Fogmire are cursed for all time. Those who enter the silvery fog that permanently obfuscates her shore immediately and irrevocably lose all memories, guaranteeing that none ever learn anything about what lay within.
Only the capital Zadar could be called an actual city, and even then only boasts 10,000 full-time inhabitants. Many more thousands of drifters, seasonal workers, and other migrants that pass through the area swell the temporary population by half during peak seasons. Roughly 90% of the Zadarian floodplains are submerged during the rainy season, nurturing an astonishing biologically diverse collection of aquatic plants and supporting a dense array of animal species.
It is a vast, sloping basin that receives runoff from the Li-Gun mountains and slowly releases the water through the Narva River and into the Tranquil Pass. During this seasonal flooding, miles and miles of Red Cargo Rice are planted in the natural paddy farms that form in the flooded valley with the help of many temporary workers. The conditions are harsh, and even the smallest infraction can result in a punishment of being enslaved and sold up North, but for many, it is the only way to gather enough food to survive the winter.
THE FREE LANDS OF THE SOUTH
A fifty-mile wide band of blasted rock and scorching sand separates the edge of Lovech from the towering onyx walls of the Coalspine, a lawless place known as the Free Lands of the South. Two tribes of orcs rule most of this gravel desert, with the bloodthirsty raiders of Clan Deathhammer controlling the West, and the relatively peaceful Clan Flatrock dominating the East. Small communities of outcasts also find a home among the rocks and hills, while strange Elves with copper skin and pale yellow eyes are said to inhabit the jungles of the East.
Two massive rivers are the primary source of fresh water in these lands, one draining from the overflow of Lake Fogmire while the other forms from melting snow and captured rain flowing from the slopes of Li-Gun. The former drives a great river deep into the heart of the Coalspine, winding through a narrow crevice for hundreds of miles before opening to reveal a land forgotten by time.
Cut off from the rest of the world and kept oppressively humid by natural springs and thermal heat, this pocket inside the colossal Coalspine is home to thousands of species long thought extinct to the rest of the world. It is also home to the guidari.
KINGDOM OF BRENUS
The Kingdom of Brenus is united in name only. The Wild Elves and their Ironwood rest firmly within Brenus’s eastern borders, though they pay no tax on their land and allow no official boot to tread within. It is the same story again with Rylend, a mountainous island nation of independent Dwarves and Elves just north of the Ironwood, while much of the south is wild and lawless.
The continent is split into West and East by a narrow mountain range that itself is halved by a tranquil lake over fifty miles across at its widest. Below this inland freshwater sea lies the Great Southern Plain, a vast expanse of shrubs and King’s Grass that stretches from coast to coast. The plains rise to meet a line of steep hills stained with rust from the thick veins of iron that run through them.
The nation’s true might lies around the Sapphire Bay, a deep well of water encrusted with rings of dense coral and bordered by much of Brenus’s western coast. The entire bay is rich with sea and plant life, enough to support a trio of influential trade cities: Cape Tripletail, Oath Harbor and the capital Skyhaven, one of the oldest human cities in the Five Kingdoms. The palace within its brightly painted walls has been ruled by the same royal family for over five hundred years, its throne currently occupied by the young King Arion Vallis.
The land South of the Crimson Hills is split again by the leading edge of Titan’s Ridge, separating them into the rainforests of the East and the marshland tropics of the West.
Just north of the Ironwood, nestled in the claw of the Spine of the Sea sits a mountainous island nation known as Rylend. The fortified city in the clouds was the first built by Dwarven and Elven hands, founded by those who viewed human ambition as a grave threat to the entire world. This belief has only strengthened after the Godswar, leading Rylend to declare itself independent from the Five Kingdoms. Any Dwarf or Elf who seeks refuge within her walls is granted such – most other races are tolerated, but humans are killed or captured on sight.
Once a mighty volcano, Rylend has been dormant for nearly two millennia, still long enough for her crater to fill with water and the rim to be covered with a forest of Ironwood. The city rests midway on the Southern edge of the island, snaking around to terraced paddy fields along the North and East, and the Snowspire to the West. The freshwater basin above runs in rivers around and through the city, plunging down tunnels and over water wheels crafted by Dwarven hands to harness the power of water and gravity.
The Snowspire sits at the top of a cliff to the west of the city, a 600 feet triangular spike of white marble resting atop a hexagonal base. A cascade of twenty glass balconies rings the tower, evenly spaced from the foot to the very top. It was constructed with the help of Jakub Kladivo using raw, God-forged marble from projects left unfinished by Zavan, a gift to the people of Rylend for their help in thwarting the world-conquering ambitions of Gal-Hadir. The tower serves both as a repository for knowledge and a vault for some of the most powerful magical artifacts ever constructed, a shining counter to the coal-black walls of Barros’ Union.
Before the Godswar, Rylend had an entire fleet of sailing ships formed from living Ironwood, called Fogcutters, for their ability to surround themselves with a dense, misty vapor that reduced vision to a few dozen feet. Today only three remain.
The ships are long and narrow, sweeping dramatically in the aft to form a large forecastle. The captain’s wheel sits atop a bridge suspended on graceful, slender pillars of Ironwood that sweep out from the desk to hold it aloft. A single, massive, living Ironwood trunk forms the only mast, adorned with five triangular sails of warm ivory lined with gold.
Much of the rest of the vessel is also very much alive, with curtains of moss that pull back with the wave of a hand and photoluminescence globes that light up the interior. Fogcutters are even capable of sifting fresh water from the sea and depositing it cold and crystal-clear throughout a series of basins and sinks within the vessel.
The most northern part of Brenus juts out far from the rest of the continent, swelling like a great whale before splitting at its tail to form a wide inlet. The towering Ironwood Forest dominates nearly all of this land.
Ironwood Trees were the first to grow upon Khalgun, brought forth by Wodea to shield her and her sisters from the blazing scrutiny of their Father, Siforr. Each time the God of Plants would raise her forest, the God of the Sun would scour the lands with punishing heat until fires reduced her trees to ash.
Undaunted, Wodea set out each night to plant her forest a new. As she buried her hands deep into the smoking soil, the moon shone brightly upon her and bathed her in a tranquil light that lifted her spirits. At midnight, as the trunks of new growth crackled and groaned above, the God of Dreams paid a visit to her forest.
“You know that he will burn it all again, yes?”
Wodea pulled her hands from the earth and spread her arms to either side. “I do, but it still must be so. For even a few hours of peace from Father are as an eternity.”
Ocarus reached out a hand and stroked the dense, vertical chords of crimson that formed the massive Ironwood trunks. “You always grow them the same. They cannot change?”
“They are the tallest and strongest trees this world can produce,” Wodea replied, her voice slow and heavy, swaying like wheat before harvest.
“These are as strong as can made with a mindful purpose.” Ocarus countered, kneeling and gently placing his hands upon hers. He dug his toes into the freshly turned soil and smiled, beaming with all the wonder and radiance of his moon-Father, Ius. “Let us make them something else in your dreams.”
Wodea did not fully trust her cousin, but she was tired, so she let Ocarus lead her into sleep. The night was warm, and the air light as the two Gods danced upon the Spine of the Sea and lay down by the mighty falls that rush life to the slopes of Rylend.
As the pair slept, the forest grew taller around them, its boughs fanning thick and wild until the canopy cast a shadow over most of the North.
The Gods awoke an hour before the dawn on a wide bed of enoki.
“What are these?” Wodea asked, for they appeared as ghostly sprouts but did not sing with her touch as sprouts are want to do.
“Mushrooms,” Ocarus replied, his smile grown a tad mischievous. “ A present from my Father to help tidy your forest and grant food for they who will guard it.”
As the God of Dreams spoke this last, he waved a hand across the edge of the woods, and Xunos arose. Though shaped like a person she was not a person; her skin leaves, her muscle woven vines, her thick hair tendrils of moss-covered branches, and her eyes distant holes filled with glowing star-moths.
She stood nearly thirty feet high, perfectly set among the towering foliage that seemed to bend at her caress, growing even stronger. As she strode through her forest, she called forth the first Elves to help her tend it, each born from the roots of the Ironwood trees that drew Divinity from the skies.
To the Elves of the North Xunos gave bows and taught them how to hunt. To the Elves of the South, she gave spear and shield and trained them to defend their new land. To guide both tribes she breathed life into the forest and called forth the first Ents.
THE EMPIRE OF KADAR
The Empire of Kadar was once five nations of its own, split along racial lines to the North and long-standing family blood feuds to the South. Centuries of internal conflict kept the massive continent fractured until the heart of her vast grain fields were charred to the very bedrock by Siforr.
The people who lived in this central valley of rich farmland were obliterated along with their lands, leaving only a few thousand survivors. Less than a thousand remain, scraping by a meager existence by collecting salt from the gaping Maw of Mordukai. When the God of Death fought Siforr to defend his lover Zavan in the great Godswar, a chasm was torn through the entirety of Kadar, splitting the nation in two.
The Southern lands of Kadar were once known as the Shining Plain, a name still used by many locals to this day. It is a land of horsemen and ranchers who drive vast herds across her rolling hills. The hills are covered with a thick, blue-green grass that grows quickly and springs back from even the roughest hoof.
The broken shore along her southeastern border is dominated by the Southern Shield, a vast slab of pale gray stone cut in clean, simple lines that rises from the grassland in a huge ramp leading to the top of her fortress-like castle. Like the capitals of every nation, the Southern Shield sits on the Kingsea. Once Kadar was founded, her Capital was moved North to the lush islands formed from the Burning Eye, a volcano summoned by Siforr in his battle with Mordukai.
After the war, these islands were claimed by General Kadar as public fields to feed his starving people. With them, a fleet of over a hundred ships and a new grain valley formed from the ashes that fell from the Burning Eye, his people were saved. The largest of these islands were named for the new Kadarian Royalty and became the home for the Empire’s new Capital.
Antalya is an island covered in lush farmland and orchards which produce some of the finest produce in all the five kingdoms. The great northern melon that grows only here, an ivory orb filled with a tangy, bright yellow pulp and seeds the size of a man’s thumb, is one of her most prized. The powdered seeds from the fruit once served as the base for many bubbling cauldrons of magical brew.
The palace sits on the northwestern edge of the island, a stately castle of clean lines wrapped within a cocoon of five separate walls, each progressively taller as the land marches upwards to meet the conical towers of the castle within. The western edge of the castle opens into a hedge maze with leafy walls some fifteen feet high and five feet thick. In the center of the maze is a long pool with a series of lazy, quiet fountains that slowly churn the water within. A flock of peacocks struts about this inner garden, warmed by the thermal vents and underground springs all year long.
Kadar’s people, cowed and ravaged by the cruel Divinity of the Gods, turned against their old masters and cursed them even in death. Temples across the continent were torn down or left to rot, while the remaining faithful were, and are, viciously persecuted. Magic is forbidden and ordered to be turned over to the state, which in turn hands much of it over to the Dwarves of Gal-Hadir to be broken down in their massive lava-forges.
Though they claim to eschew all magic, Kadar takes regular shipments of magical constructs from the Dwarves in the form of Iron Constructs. These steel giants are used for two purposes: thick copper rings are fused to their frames, allowing lines to be attached so they can drag ships into harbor. Others are covered in thick spikes and sent charging into battle, impaling their enemies as they press ever forward, covered in their screaming, flailing bodies.
While immensely valuable to both the Kadarian military and the naval might, the constructs are unsettling to people who were taught to distrust and hate all things magical. In retaliation to their inhuman power, the people of Kadar have sought to make a spectacle out of the iron giants through sport. Teams of three specially trained warriors engage with the constructs in an attempt to topple them before the constructs run them down. Many believe that these contests also served as a thinly veiled exercise for taking down the Godking.
It is thought that Kadar could have dozens, even hundreds of these constructs either active or in storage, and larger versions are rumored to exist, though none have ever been seen. Aside from the constructs, the majority of magic has been stripped from Kadar’s great cities. Priests of their anti-religion regularly patrol the far corners of the continent, rooting out any and all magic with blackened Ironwood staves that clutch fist-sized Seeker Stones. For those found hoarding magic the punishment is always the same: death by public execution. The sentence is absolute, and beggars and noblemen alike have suffered the fate.
The Order of the Seekers believes that man is superior to all others, after all, it was man that survived the apocalypse that killed all the Gods. In this belief, they encourage a disciplined life of rigorous physical and mental training. Intellect is equal with brawn in their society, and a Prince only worth as much as the finest farmer, your value comes from what you can produce for the good of the country. Kadarians are expected to put their nation first and themselves, and even their families, second.
Further North, this belief in human supremacy is matched by the disdain the Dwarves of Gal-Hadir have for any outside their bloodlines, even that of other Dwarves. The Kadarians are no fools; they know how precious the constructs and anti-magic Bane swords that emerge from the Dwarven lava-forges are. They also know a day will come when they will have to burn them out of those mountains and purify all of Kadar once and for all.
The Dwarves of Gal-Hadir are a stoic, reclusive lot led by six ancient houses that existed long before the empires of man. For the past 300 years, the mountaintop citadel has been ruled by House Stoneburner and led by the brilliant Geomancer, Thorrick. King Stoneburner is obsessed with acquiring as much old magical material as possible to break down into their raw elements in the heart of Gal-Hadir’s great lava-forges.
The forges were made dormant as part of a treaty hammered out after the last war, but King Stoneburner ordered the magical seals to the lava tubes reopened half a decade ago. They have flowed ever since, filling the night sky of Northern Kadar with a red bloom that rolls across the horizon in waves of glowing fire.
Much as with Rylend, the Godswar has intensified Gal-Hadir’s militant nationalism, a smoldering anger fed by the stinging rebuke at the hand of Zavan. Recently there have been reports that the mighty lava-forges, dormant as part of the peace accord set forth by Zavan, burn once again. Others have reported seeing airships in the sky and constructs forged of steel and brass and powered by steam crashing through the tundra.
The greatest Dwarven city ever forged sits carved from a mountain top in the far north of the Kadarian Empire. Her Dwarves were the first to be given magic, the first to build magical constructs, and the first to set warships sailing among the clouds. Gal-Hadir is insular and xenophobic, run since her inauguration by a series of great houses with ancient family bloodlines.
The mightiest of all Gal-Hadir Houses is Clan Stoneburner led by King Thorrick, a brilliant scientist obsessed with thermal power and magic. He has led his people for two hundred years, tunneling deeper and deeper into the mountain his city rests upon while transforming the citadel above into a church of machinery and production. His people are complicated, willing to sacrifice anything for progress while fiercely defending the traditions and histories of their bloodline. Outsider art, philosophy, and religions are considered to be propaganda from other Dwarves, blasphemy from the Elves, and laughably barbaric from all others.
The Godswar was not wholly destructive, for even in great cataclysm one can always find rebirth. The series of islands, born from the Burning Eye so rich and plentiful that Kadar moved their capital to their golden shores, are proof of this natural order.
A massive volcano of solid onyx exploded from the seafloor to the West of Kadar, called forth by Siforr. He was mad with power after slaying his Fire mother and sacrificed himself out of pure hate for the God of Man, diving into the mile-high crater and fusing with its molten core.
From there he struck at Zavan again and again, scorching the center of Kadar and calling forth a chain of islands as ten gigatons of magma and ash boiled into the sea. When the new land cooled its soil was infused with Divinity. Nearly a hundred years later, crops grown in that mineral-rich dirt are unusually bountiful and healthy.
The islands are owned by the Kadarian Crown and the vegetables, legumes, and fruits grown there are dispersed among the poor to supplement what they can grow from their small, government-assigned farms. The royalty of Kadar see this as their duty to the people and take great pride in the quality and quantity of food they produce. The king himself is often found sowing his fields by hand and lovingly plucking infestations from their leaves.
Second only in wealth and power to the crown, the city of Demiric controls much of the wheat, barley, sunflower seed, oats, potatoes and rye produced in the northern farmlands of Kadar. The city sits on the banks of twin freshwater lakes in a broad, golden plain, her soil enriched by ash from the Burning Eye. While the city is abundant in trade and culture, there are many Kadarians who believe that wealth has made the people of Demiric soft and glutinous.
The people of Demeric pay their fair share in food tariffs, and without their overland trade routes, much of the staple goods of the empire could not reach the South and cities beyond. They also revel in their status, celebrating each harvest festival with a grandeur that seems garish by comparison to the abstemious Antitheots and others adherent to their values.
The city of Demiric reflects the values of its people. Much of the public lands are given to parks, amphitheaters, jousting greens, hot springs baths, museums, and coliseums. The shores of both lakes are overflowing with every type of shop and service imaginable, and those with coin and the will to part with it can find themselves pampered from sunrise to set.
MAW OF MORDUKAI
A vast chasm tore apart the center of Kadar during the Godswar as Zavan and his lover Death fought desperately to defend the kingdom they had created from the burning hate of Siforr. The lifeless, salt-encrusted canyon that remains is named after Mordukai for it was born from his destruction as the God of Death sacrificed himself, giving Zavan the power he needed to end the Godswar and shield the Five Kingdoms from the resulting Worldstorm.
Saltwater sloshes over the edges of the canyon at high tide and mixes with thermal vents to form a bubbling, alkaline brew. The seawater continuously evaporates, coating the walls and mouth of the chasm in a thick, crimson paste that is rich in salt and highly prized throughout the kingdom. Collecting the salt is no easy task, and those working the chasm must wait until winds shift the toxic clouds away before rushing in to break off as many chunks as they can carry.
Even with these precautions most salt collectors bear deep, angry scars and bleached skin, its pigment drained by the toxic clouds. Others have been torn apart, or worse, by aftershocks of powerful wild magic that explode into reality across the broken ridge of the maw, fractured remnants of the terrifying divine forces unleashed in the Godswar.
The largest of these communities sits between the hissing maw and the Glassea, a huge flat that covers a pool of brine in a crusty layer of compacted salt a few meters thick. The Glassea is virtually devoid of any wildlife or vegetation, save for a large, pale-green cactus that grows quickly around the edges of the lakes. The thin, clear water held within the plants is rich with aloe and stained a sickly yellow. When boiled down to a paste, it is used to soothe the sores incurred by salt harvesters.
It is said the Glassea was formed when Letaria, the demigod child of Ius, had her children torn away from her and smashed against rocks, as was divine law for any creature born of less than half Godly blood. Her tears are said to have mixed with her milk to form the vastness that is the Glassea, known to locals as Letaria’s Sorrow.
In daylight, the surface of the Glassea acts as a highly reflective mirror that attracted worshipers from many Deities who saw the flats as a way for mortals to walk and dance among the very heavens. To this day, makeshift shrines of bleached bone and dried flowers are regularly found by sweeps of the local Kadarian Antitheots who have stood watch over the flats since the Godswar.
Shielded from the punishing blasts of Siforr by the peaks of the Broken Mount, the Highlands were once where the Kings of the North would gather to rule. A five-hundred-mile prairie of Seashore Grass rolls in knee-high waves of gleaming, golden tips, stretching unbroken from coast to coast. The southernmost part of the land splinters into a series of tall, jagged cliffs that rise to stand watch over the Kingsea.
The largest city in the Highlands is The Southern Shield, a fortress set behind a series of walls so massive that they dwarf even Ani’s magical fortifications. A 100-foot-wide ramp rises slowly across the length of the city, leading to the gates of the royal palace high above.
While it no longer serves as the Capital of Kadar, the Southern Shield remains the most import city in all the empire. Its location on the Kingsea lets it serve as both trade hub and naval base, boasting a fleet of fifty warships and a trio of Ironwood flagships.
THOUSAND FANG SEA
As Siforr scoured the heart of Kadar with earthquakes and fire not felt on Khalgun since the creation of the moon, huge chunks of land were blasted hundreds of miles into the sea. Here they cooled to form thousands of blackened spires that claw above the rough waters between Kadar’s eastern cliffs and mountains of Utea.
The Thousand Fang Sea is all but impassable to naval travel, with only a handful of captains possessing spirit and ship brave and quick enough to weave their way through its treacherous waters. Adding to this danger are the tribes of Utea who plague these waters in small, rubbery canoes, looting shipwrecks and enslaving their survivors.
The last great forest before the land gives way to ice and gale from the Worldstorm, the Deepwood dominates much of northern Kadar. Frigid water runs off the spidering Kalkeila Mountains, soaking the land in an icy marsh that clings to the roots of trees
A great clan of elves once ruled these forests, the same elves that stole the secrets of magic from deep within Gal-Hadir’s lava forges. The Gods cursed them for this theft and banished them from their forest, cursing them to live out their millennia of life in the blasted sands of the Torahora.
Now, only a small band of elves roam these woods. They are a loosely knit clan of outcasts from other tribes and zealots set upon keeping the Dwarves of Gal-Haldir in check. Both High and Sun Elves can be found among the tribes, though over 80% of their number is composed of Wild Elves.
The Guardians of the Ironwood have a loose alliance with these elves, trading information about Gal-Haldir for Ironwood and other supplies.
A continent second only to Kadar in sheer mass, Utea was blasted down to its bedrock by Siforr in the last minutes of the Godswar, leaving a huge slab of scorched stone that cradles a lush, primordial valley. The cataclysm that the God of the Sun unleashed upon Utea was so vast that it tore the very fabric of reality, opening portals to other worlds and times from which countless horrors spilled forth.
It remains to this day a wild, untamed place inhabited by barbaric tribes that cling to the valley and beaches, fortifying themselves against the monstrous creatures that have claimed this land as their own. Impossibly huge birds known as Rocs inhabit the steep cliffs while giant lizards long thought extinct roam the arid plains. The threats of Utea do not end at her shores, as scavengers descend upon unwary ships and brazen smugglers that stray too close to the jagged black rock forest of the Thousand Fang Bay.
A temple forged from the same blood-red stone it rests upon sits at the Western end of the Great Plateau. Four massive towers mark the corners of the structure, each dedicated to one of the First Gods: Fire (Ytar), Air (Ather), Water (Emitaf), and Earth (Ogun). Infested with otherworldly creatures and surrounded by savages, the temple has sat abandoned since the Godswar, its treasure and knowledge yet unclaimed.
As the barren plateau marches eastward, it splits to cradle a valley of vegetation and wildlife spared from Siforr’s punishing flames. A river tumbles into the valley from the West, breaking at the entrance to wrap North and South, joining with snowmelt to fill a pair of freshwater basins.
The soil here is rich and supports a wide variety of crops and livestock, but there is a price. The farmers of the valley must be on constant watch for the giant, lizard-like beasts that raid the valley with frightful speed and frustrating regularity. The lakes are equally abundant and thick with pupfish, trout, and over a dozen species of catfish. The northern lake is nearly three times the size of its brother and well over five thousand feet deep, making it the largest freshwater body in all of the Five Kingdoms.
To the East, standing guard over the human settlements of the lower beaches stands the only grove of remaining Ironwood trees outside of Brenus. This snaking forest is long forgotten to most of the Five Kingdoms, but the Elves always remember their Birth Trees. There are a few dozen Elves that still have ties to this old, broken land, though none have asked these trees for a new Elven child in over a hundred years.
A chasm tore through the center of Kadar during the Godswar as Zavan and his lover Death fought desperately to defend the kingdom he had created from the burning hate of Siforr. The lifeless, salt-encrusted canyon that remains is named after Mordukai for it was born from his destruction as the God of Death sacrificed himself to oblivion, giving Zavan the power he needed to end the Godswar and shield the Five Kingdoms from the resulting Worldstorm.
The canyon is deepest near the center of Kadar, a straight drop of over 20,000 feet to the rocky pool of brine below. High tide sends waves crashing over the edges of the canyon on both ends of Kadar as a narrow lake of seawater mixes with thermal vents to create a bubbling cauldron. Steam rising from this acrid brew carries an overpowering stench of sulfur and coats the walls and mouth of the canyon with a thick layer of bright yellow salt.
While the salt is highly prized, the caustic air disintegrates both metal and wood in short order, leading the majority of the harvest to be done by the hands of the poorest. The vapors are just as harsh on men as machines, leaching color from the skin, hair and eyes and shredding the lungs with boils and lesions. A trio of rivers that empty into the maw provide the only lifelines to a cluster of villages along the northern rim.
South of the Five Kingdoms and past the walls of the Spear of Jarden sits the Void, a crater of rock and ash hundreds of miles across that rises in the center like an infected boil. Nothing lives in this forsaken place save for the massive Ash Worms – ancient, mindless creatures forced to the surface from deep within the earth’s crust during the Godswar. They forever patrol the Void in solitude, swimming through the blackened rock as if it were water in lazy, counterclockwise circles, each beast inhabiting a ring of space as their territory that they fiercely guard against intrusion. The strongest of the worms claim the mineral-rich inner rings while the young and the sickly battle for scraps along the edges of the crater walls.
In the center of the Void, shrouded by the swirling edge of the Worldstorm, sits the Union. A mighty citadel raised by Barros in the Old Land, the Union is a single column of twisted onyx at the peak of a coal-black mountain ending in a sharp, hooked point that forms the main tower over a mile above the surrounding land. It is said to be completely indestructible – even Ogun himself raining down rock from the stars could not sunder it.
Though the Union is mostly obscured by the Worldstorm, it can be witnessed yearly during the Great Calm when the Worldstorm suddenly ceases to exist. This period aligns precisely with the start of the Godswar, ending after a short hour as the winds and dust roar back to life seemingly from nothing.
The sprawling capital of Skyhaven rests at the foot of a massive outcropping of rock, separating the public areas below from the royal palace and senate above. Enemies of Brenus broke themselves against her sheer cliffs for centuries before the airships of Gal-Hadir soared high above them during the last Great War.
The city serves as both trade hub and governing body for the kingdom and is second in size and population only to the great island nation of Ani. A lake rich with minerals flows down from the cliffs and into the Sapphire Bay, an inlet so deep and blue that some believe it to have no bottom. An abundance of life swirls about in these waters, enriching the coast and the people who live along it.
VALLEY OF THE FEAST
Clouds that roll off the Kingsea laden with moisture crash against the Voiceless Peaks, dumping thousands of cascading torrents into the Valley of the Feast. The result is a two-hundred-mile swath of rich, temperate farmland that forms the breadbasket for nearly all of Brenus.
The people of the valley are a hearty folk. When Kadar’s war machine battled the remaining Brenesian forces to a standstill at the Voiceless Peaks, they ravaged the local farmlands for food and supply, leaving those who remained to starve. Communities banded together to share what meager resources they had left, and that spirit of cooperation has prevailed in the heart of those who live in the valley to this day.
A dark, tangled glade of overgrown elms and choking underbrush, the Palewood was once tended by a clan of Wild Elves. When the forces of Gal-Hadir marched across Brenus, the Elves stood with their human and dwarven brethren. As punishment, Kadar sent airships over the canopies to drop flaming acid from above and burned the Elves from their treetop homes.
Those that fled were cut down once they reached the edge of their forest, with only a handful of the clan escaping total annihilation. To this day the forest remains haunted by this brutal extermination and few locals will gather near it, much less step foot inside.
Nestled against the tall cliffs that draw up from the eastern sea and greet the soaring, blue-green trunks of the Ironwood Forest is the quiet seaside town of Turtle Bay. A long sandbar juts from the edge of the land, forming a tranquil inlet where schools of fish gather to feed on an explosion of water-bugs each summer.
After the Godswar, many creatures found themselves trapped within the eye of the Worldstorm and cut off from their normal patterns of life. A pod of several thousand sea turtles, pregnant and exhausted from battling the churning waves, beached themselves at Turtle Bay (which at the time was known as Dorsal) and promptly laid their eggs.
Shaken by the devastation of the planet and riddled with guilt over surviving the cataclysm mostly unscathed, the people of Dorsal were overjoyed by the wave of tiny sea turtle hatchlings that followed two months later. They dug trenches, cleared fields, moved herds, and even tore down fences to clear paths for them. Adults gathered lost hatchlings in sloshing buckets and carried them to the shore while children ran up and down the beach, chasing away birds eager for an easy meal.
The next year the turtles returned, and the village once again took up their self-appointed roles as shepherds of their ocean flock. The people began to plan ceremonies and sports around the week-long event, and soon Turtlefest was officially born. Word of the celebration quickly spread, and in its fifth year, the people of Dorsal officially renamed their town Turtle Bay.
At the northeastern end of a peninsula shaped like a whale of earth and trees sits the bustling community of Tale’s Bay.
Before the Godswar and resulting Worldstorm, the town was a small frontier outpost, part of the Kingdom but held apart by the vast Ironwood. As migration patterns shifted for creatures on both land and sea, the area became awash with wildlife. Iceback crabs are farmed here in abundance, and pelts from beavers, foxes, and muskrats make up the majority of trade goods. The real money, however, lies in whaling.
Sperm whales gather off the coast in late summer to both feed and breed in large numbers. They are aggressive and dangerous, sinking a handful whaling ships each year, but the value of their oil outweighs the risk.
The Godswar destroyed the Weave and left much of the Five Kingdoms in disarray, spiking the demand for essential goods. Lanterns imbued with Continual Flames were commonplace in the magically-saturated old world, available for as little as five gold a piece. While that price still equaled a month’s salary for the average person, the investment in an unlimited source of light was well worth the cost.
Once magic was destroyed, the flames extinguished, and the Five Kingdoms were plunged into darkness. Lamp oil, which along with candles had grown to be thought of as an affectation of the rich, became a vital commodity overnight. Several whaling companies jockey for the best hunting grounds and invoice over the city of Tael’s Bay itself.
Waxy, blue-green blades of grass roll across the open lands that rise to meet a series of tan hills along the western shore of Brenus. These fields and pebbled slopes are home to riders and horses without equal throughout the Five Kingdoms, and the Knights of Brenus are thick with their number.
LAKE OF THE FALLEN
Before the Godswar the Lake of the Fallen was an extension of the Lakewood (then known as the Plainswood), covered in hearty Cottonwood Trees and tended by a dutiful clan of Wild Elves. It was here that Emitaf fell, betrayed by her siblings of Fire and Earth, sundering the land and forming the impossibly deep Ruun-Lon (Lake of the Fallen) from her blood.
THE GREAT SOUTHERN PLAIN
Rolling, green hills swept with moisture-laden winds from both west and east coasts dominate the core of Brenus. Millions of cattle, sheep, pigs, and oxen are tended by nomadic families of shepherds who have worked this land for generations.
The Knights of Brenus enforce the peace on these lands, but skirmishes between families and tribes are still common, as are rustlers looking to make off with a valuable herd.
THE BLOOD FIELDS
Below the Crimson Hills and the Dwarves of the Red Fort, a massive finger of Titan’s Ridge splits southern Brenus in two. On the western side of this sheer, onyx cliff lay the Blood Fields. The humid wetlands are named for the life spilled in conflicts between the tribes of Zabel and the Dwarves tasked with keeping those tribes from raiding Brenesian ranchers in the Great Southern Plain.
The city of Zabel is split by a wide river. On the West bank sits a mighty ziggurat built from huge bloodstone slabs mined from the Crimson Hills and floated downriver on equally massive barges. On the East bank rests the city, a series of low, square buildings built from mud brick and washed in glittering hues of copper, gold, and silver. Azure fountains shaped like spacious, knee-high bowls lined with gold-leaf dot a series of broad, open plazas throughout the city.
The people of Zabel see themselves as the rightful rulers of all Brenus, a land which they call Verlindi or “The Promised” as it translates in common. It was said Vistrix herself swore to bequeath all of Brenus to them, and the people of Zabul have fought bitterly for what they consider their birthright.
The small nation of Ryzan, newly rich with a mile-wide ore of gold that erupted to the surface during the Godswar, gave birth to an unusual form of government. Nearly every public sector position, from Czars to local council leaders, is won by who can pay the most to run the department for that cycle (half a decade).
Elections are a simple matter – candidates wager any amount they believe is enough to win, and then run a campaign to encourage the public to “vote” for them by donating to their election pot. All donations and totals are kept secret until the election is over and the vaults, magically warded against theft and sealed to prevent tampering, are inventoried. The winner is the candidate who amassed the most money. This system also allows for a tax-free society, as all of the “votes” are gathered to form the budget for that department over the next five years.
The kingdom of Ani once stood at the highest point on a massive floodplain, forming a bridge between the continents of Wessle and Brenus. After the Godswar the land sunk beneath the Kingsea for good, stranding the capital on an island with little room to spare.
Were it not for Zavan raising towering walls that carried magically purified water throughout the heart of the city, a million souls would have died from starvation and thirst. The waters magically bolster the health of those who drink it and filter out all impurities, guarding both citizens and livestock against disease and sickness. The waters also allow crops to grow in lavish abundance and variety at rates unheard of anywhere else in the Five Kingdoms. They keep the soil nutrient rich no matter how hard farmers work the land, and allow fields to be used every season with minimal tiling and fertilizer.
The walls, canal, and waterways of Ani are magical artifacts that never tarnish or need repair. They never clog or calcify, and all impurities that enter the magical aqueducts are filtered out within seconds. The magic is so powerful that citizens use the canals as their primary source of water and waste disposal at the same time.
Ani remains the heart of the Five Kingdoms, as both the seat of government and center of trade throughout the region. The Tear of Ceto, a three-foot-long sapphire shard continuously generating magical waters that feed Ani’s aqueducts also gives the Godking or Godqueen limited control over the Kingsea. All ships who wish to travel these waters must pay tariffs to the crown. Those who fail to do so risk the divine wrath of the kingdom. With the power of the tear bolstering their inherited godlike abilities, a fully empowered Godking or Godqueen can quickly identify and sink any ship that sets sail in these waters without ever leaving their throne.
The fortified aqueducts that ring Ani also cut through the heart of the city, carving it into quarters with a central, walled core. The northwest corner – which coincidently houses the royal palace and gardens – is the richest sector of Ani. The public forests there are open to all, but an increased local guard keeps curious visitors from wandering down the residential streets.
The great canal that bisects the city opens to a circular, artificial lake at its heart, ringed on all sides by docks owned by the richest families in the kingdom. Captains pay a steep fee for offloading at these docks, and the merchants and travelers who ride their ships are willing to pay well for the privilege. For it is the currency of privilege that actually rules Ani.
Though the city houses a million souls and could easily make room for that much by half, there is a long waiting list for those who wish to live behind her immortal walls. The official price for entry is three generations of service to Ani’s royal navy, and even then for only a single great-grandchild of the first to volunteer.
COUNCIL OF ANI
The Council of Ani is staffed half by bloodline and tradition while the other half is made up of an elected council, with each member serving for a term of ten years. The Godking or Godqueen can veto any proposed legislation, but the council can override them with a two-thirds majority vote. Such an event has yet to come to pass.
CHURCH OF ZAVAN
Often dismissively referred to as “Wallites,” the Church of Zavan sees the entire city as a holy church gifted to humanity by its first true God. They worship the walls as an extension of Zavan. Many of the devout spend their days traveling the paths that ring them, one hand always touching the ivory stone. They call this the Long Walk, and Wallites can be seen worshiping in this way regardless of weather, day or night.
1. KINGS CROSS
At the entrance to Ani’s grand canal is a towering box of stone walls and towers that loom a hundred feet above the waterline. A cross section of stone bridges float above, held up by narrow arches that seem to defy gravity. Hidden inside this fortress are twin spill gates that can be activated at moments notice sending thousands of gallons of water crashing down, enough to swamp even the largest vessel.
2. PORT DUMA
One of five port cities that have grown just outside of Ani’s massive aqueduct walls, Port Duma sits at the most southern part of the island. It is considered one of the most scenic entrances to the kingdom, Second only to the great canal, and favored by those on religious pilgrimage to the Temple of Zavan. As such, it is also a haven for the Church of Zavan.
3. PORT MARCEZ
The busiest of the outer cities, Port Marcez has a single purpose: to import, store, and distribute as much food as it possibly can. Its docks are largely sponsored by the Weslleyan Council, and their ships have priority when offloading goods, but all vessels who pay their shipping tariffs are welcome here.
4. GOLDEN DOCKS
A low peninsula of land sweeps out from Port Marcez, shielding a tranquil body of water known as the Bay of Lotanya. It was named after the old Demigod of Fishing for its deep, plentiful waters overflowing with Bluefish, Flounder, Herring, and Leatherjackets.
5. THE LOW ORCHARD
A tangled glen of trees apples, pears, oranges, and date trees took root soon after Zavan raised the magical walls of Ani and have stubbornly refused all efforts to tame or remove them for development. Complicating these efforts are Wallites who have declared the orchard a holy site, claiming that Zavan himself intended the woods to be a public garden for those who take the Long Walk.
6. PORT JASK
The mountain that wraps the North of Ani terminates in a craggy hook that shelters a small inlet from wind and waves. Ani berths their royal navy at these docks, and many in the government prefer them to the long, frequently congested slog through the great canal when entering or leaving the city. The barracks for enlisted sailors and low-level officers are here as well, just outside the walls of the city they pledge their lives to protect.
7. PORT TARTUS
Half of this bustling port city is comprised of docks. Nearly all sport living quarters for their workers built above cavernous warehouses that sit right at the water’s edge. There is no boardwalk that connects them all, simply clusters of long piers owned by the various houses of Brenus that sponsor them. Competition between these houses is intense, and results in Tartus offering the lowest import tariffs of any of the port cities.
8. PORT PAYA
Paya is easily the largest of the port cities, though much its land is reserved for grazing. The docks here are mostly sponsored by Ryzan and are used mainly to ship livestock and bulk feed in and out of the city, as well as importing goods from southern Kadar.
9. GRAIN DOCKS
Just past the entrance to Ani’s great canal is an inlet which sports a series of docks. Grain barges are loaded to carry bulk corn, beans, and wheat to the flour mills and feed much of the north.
10. THE FIELDS OF MEDINA
A broad swath of Ani’s southern end is reserved for growing staple crops, ensuring that the citizens of the island kingdom are not wholly reliant on imports to feed them. The fields are owned and maintained by the crown, who in turn employ an army of indentured servants earning citizenship for their grandchildren. The fields are named for the Demigod of Harvests, Medina.
11. TEMPLE OF ZAVAN
A fifty-foot marble sphere sits in a basin at the heart of the Temple of Zavan. It spins slowly, held aloft by water pressure piped-in from below. A circle of ivory marble surrounds the sphere, rung at it’s edge by a series of stone archways. If a person stands in this open pavilion and looks through an archway toward Ani’s inner lake, they will see an illusion of a towering Zavan standing guard over the city.
12. MALL OF VALHENA
A long, unbroken expanse of green serves as a public field for sporting events, festivals, holiday feasts, and annual competitions of all sorts. The mall is marked on each corner by an ornate fountain dedicated to Gaidir’s four daughters, the Demigods of Fairness, Victory, Resolve, and Defeat.
13. UNIVERSITY OF EPONA
A massive structure of shimmering white marble that glows steadily at night, the university also houses the largest public library in all of the five kingdoms. A dedicated staff of scribes and scholars copies every piece of written literature, science, and history onto leather-bound scrolls. These scrolls are eventually copied again into more permanent bindings to ensure that the knowledge gathered within the university will never be lost.
14. TEMPLE OF CETO
In the heart of Ani, her canal widens to form an artificial lake over a thousand feet across. In the center a limestone tower rises to support a massive bowl. The column is adorned on the North and South by statues of Ceto’s children, the Demigods of the Stars and the Wind. Water cascades from four extended spillways cut into the bowl, crashing to the ringed steps below and draining into the canal.
Beneath the water line, the old God of the Sea is depicted holding up the entire fountain as water rushes into his open mouth, an accurate reflection of the cruel fate he endured at the hands of Zavan.
15. COLISEUM OF GAIDIR
Just west of the Ani’s central lake is a round, open stadium that seats one-hundred-thousand citizens in steep tiers that rise along a single continuous, sloping walkway. An intricate series of stone pipes and underground tanks are used to transform parts of the arena at an instant, lifting entire sections fifty feet into the air. The colosseum can also be partially or wholly flooded, and a favorite gladiatorial event has contestants battling among an ever-rising tide.
16. THE PELIGON
The temple to the old God of Emotion takes the form of a hexagonal theater with a domed ceiling, magically enchanted to display any sky from any viewpoint on the planet. This magic is also found in thirty-foot-tall archways inset in the walls. When the ceiling is activated these arches become windows, showing whatever land would fall beneath the projected sky above.
This illusion transforms the stage, transporting the audience in a way no theater can. Operas are held on mountain tops while orchestras perform a hundred feet below a crystal-clear sea. Set design is usually very minimal, for what backdrop could compete with the rising sun at dawn or a thousand glittering stars beside a glowing moon?
17. TEMPLE OF OCARUS
At the far edge of a long, oval reflecting pool sits a pavilion surrounded by Ani’s inner forest. This area of quiet contemplation is dedicated to the old God of Dreams and once served as his temple in the capital.
18. POOLS OF YALA
At the northern edge of the inner fields sits a large, square pool of water, a single foot deep all the way across. Resting above the pool is an open-air temple to the old god of life which now serves as a public hospital for all who seek care.
19. TEMPLE OF XUNOS
Hidden in the deepest part of Ani’s inner forest is a simple wooden totem carved to resemble the old God of the Wild. It marks the only spot within the towering walls of the densely populated city where no evidence of human expansion can be seen. It is said if a person stands in this place and clears their mind, all the sounds and smells of civilization fall away as well.
20. MONASTERY OF ETOS
High atop Ani’s northern mountain is a monastery dedicated to the old God of Peace, built by Zavan to mark the end of the Kadarian war. The God of Man carved a winding path of steps directly into the rocky slope and leveled a lower peak to make room for a spacious pavilion.
The monastery remains active to this day, both for the several dozen monks who live there year-round and politicians seeking to use the backdrop to bolster their calls for peace.
21. NORTHERN RANCHES
A sizeable wedge of the north-eastern section of Ani is reserved for housing the city’s livestock. Cows, horses, goats, pigs, and a few dozen grantas are shepherded between their pens and the fields at the foot of the towering Spire of Ani.
The reason why the herds are housed inside the walls is simple: waste. Were they kept beyond the walls their waste would run into the Kingsea, fouling Ani’s pristine shores. Instead, this waste is drained into a wide, curving moat filled with the magical waters of the city kingdom. The trench is filled continuously as water evaporates or is drunk by the livestock, but it does not circulate with the rest of Ani’s waterways. Even so, the stagnant pool remains as clear as the waters that first bubble up from the Well.
22. THE ROYAL GARDENS
The outside ring of the walled palace grounds is a finely manicured garden, complete with eight magnificent fountains. Narrow jets of water arc randomly from one to the next, giving the impression of animated spirits dancing about the glass-tiled pools.
23. BAY OF IUS
Separating the royal gardens from the palace grounds is a half-moon bay of water one hundred feet deep. The walls and floor of this channel are covered in magical glass tiles lit from within, filling the bay and royal fountains with a twinkling glow.
24. THE WELL
The royal palace is dominated by a wide, cylindrical tower carved directly from Ani’s mountain. Three smaller towers ring the walls, dropping in height as them march West to East.