That Which Once had Never Been
Below is a copy of a letter we intercepted en route across The Great Sea. The original has been left to continue towards its destination. I believe we can safely assume "Anduil" is not the name the author uses in these lands. We await your orders.
I hope this letter finds you well. I apologize that it has been some time since you have received a letter from me. In truth, it has been but a few short weeks since I last wrote, and while that is longer than is prudent given my mission, I have only now gotten word that the remaining goblin hordes (which I only recently learned had been intercepting our communications) have been cleared.
Elstrom had assured me his contacts could see my letters through safely. It was the only reason I continued writing. I pray we remain familiar enough that you know I would have never knowingly given any shred of intelligence to the enemies of our fair city. Perhaps he sold me this lie out of kindness to keep me from despairing. He saw what toll learning our fair city had been sacked took on me and how I feared for you above all else. I wanted to abandon this mission you had chosen me for, to return home and find you and stay by your side.
It feels strange, writing this, knowing it’s the first letter of mine you’ve read for years, knowing in that time you did not know whether I was alive or dead – knowing in that time you might barely have had the luxury to consider it at all. Know that I thought of you every day, through all the darkness you faced, and I pray for the swift rebuilding of our home.
I turn now to the business of the mission. I regret I must turn to it so soon and cover so much in so little space. The courier has insisted she can take only a few pages, so I have much to cover in what little space remains.
No one knows precisely what it was that swept through here so many years ago, and as a result, it has been given many names. The most common used is simply “The Cataclysm,” and if even a fraction of the stories regarding it are true, the magnitude of its effects has not been undersold. And yet it’s difficult to quantify. “It’s different,” everyone insists of how things are now, including those of younger races whose only knowledge of the time before has been filtered through generations. The accounts of the differences, however…vary.
I have found broad agreement on only three things, and they follow beloow:
- There used to be far less unrest. In my time here, I have noted the most common feature of the region, politically, has been instability. Countries rise and fall with frightening regularity. City-states are founded, conquered, emancipated and destroyed so often it’s remarkable there is any civilization left to speak of. I’m told this was not always the case, and indeed, our own records seemed to indicate this was so. I will get to my theories on the why of this shortly. For now, I offer a brief description of the few points of stability left:
A. The Academy – By virtue of peacefully paying taxes to whoever holds the lands around them and having within the largest concentration of arcane masters in the region, they have been largely left to their own devices. Names, arcane research and instruction.
B. The Monastery – By virtue of being considered as having nothing of value, unless one counts awareness of the self, and being in the middle of the steppes, none has saw fit to disturb them. They remain unmolested, as they apparently have for centuries, turning their meditations inward and turning away none who they feel truly seek their teachings.
C. The Peninsula – Ship making is an expensive endeavor that requires prolonged stability, something in rare supply, so having only one narrow avenue to defend means they have held. Their outer borders shift, and their internal structure changes (currently a divine monarchy in some human diety’s name), but they remain and have remained whole for decades.
D. The Steppes – As much as something in perpetual flux and internal conquest can be a point of stability, this is. Unlike other regions, it’s remained unconquered with borders roughly unchanged. The people within seem to draw strength from the land, which is itself fairly inhospitable. In other worse, more trouble than it’s worth to most outsiders and more trouble than they were ready for those who;ve tried their hand.
E. The merchants houses/guilds – Countries without lands, they call them, which is how they’ve endured. Stamp them out in one city, which requires risking your resources against their private armies, and their remaining parts offer your enemies a discount. They’re spread throughout the region and are relatively decentralized with clear lines of succession, which has made them almost impossible to eradicate for those who have tried. Incidentally, they’re perhaps one of the greatest forces for stability, since stability keeps their profits predictable.
F. Adventures/mercenaries – As ever they are anywhere, though facing pressure from merchant houses and guilds to either join them or be pushed out. Some see them as a beacon, the last remaining remnant of the heroes that were or a possibility of help for those in need. Others see them as agents of chaos. To some extent, neither is wrong.
G. The Hallowed Wall – Perhaps more aptly called “The Sunken Wall.” It was once the great border wall of the dwarven kingdoms, now sunken into the earth from some cataclysm (not The Cataclysm). The great kingdoms are no longer strictly dwarven, instead being a gallimaufry of mountain-dwelling and subterranean races. It’s subterranean nature has allowed it sufficient cover to persist in some form or another, thought many of the once extensive tunnels are now derelict.
H. The Empire – It remains, though only as an ominous, looming mass. Still, it’s borders have not moved, and it’s remained largely silent. Perhaps, in that way, the most stable thing of all.
II. The Spell Plague appears as devastating as the sole warning we received suggested. It’s been impossible to treat, contain, or predict. Its symptoms are not always the same. Sometimes it manifests merely as a loss of magical ability, turning a great mage into simply a scholar. Other times it manifests in uncontrollable gouts of flames of pure magic. Killing an infected may end it, or it may cause it to erupt and infect more. The only constant to it is where there is too much of it, the rules of magic, or even of the world, seem to warp and change.
III. In accordance with our records, the Empire was once the dominant force of the region. In a way, it still is, but now it’s separated from the rest of the region by a stretch of scorched earth that never seems to recover. It has no ties with any authority outside its borders, but all invading forces have been completely routed by an army of warforged. Many say the cataclysm came from the empire. On that and all other matters, the empire has remained silent.
There is more, so much more. Different deities who have emerged, differences in the workings of magic, notable figures and warlords, but those will have to wait for my next letter, and there will be a next one, an unending stream of them until you call me home.
With great love and affection,