The following is an attempt to explore some of the history of the setting for “SKALD: Against the Black Priory” (currently on Indiegogo). There may be slight SPOILERS AHEAD. You might also want to check out the article on Freymark if you’re interested in the SKALD setting.
The last time we spoke you implored me to assist you in your study of pre-Imperial history. I refused then. Please forgive me: I acted only with regards to your safety and health. In this age, truth itself has become a precious commodity, and even an Imperial scholar such as myself, must be wary. Some things are simply too terrible to bear, yet too dangerous to speak off.
However, things are now afoot that makes me realize I must share what I know lest they be lost forever. The “smiling man” came to me again! Dressed as a beggar. Nay – a fool! And you would think of him as such with that moronic, terrible grin. But he knows things. Things no man should know. And he asks questions no man should know to ask.
Baldwin, I am not well. My mind is not what it was. The dreams are worse than ever and my thoughts don’t feel like my own anymore.
Enclosed are my notes on the subjects you requested. Have tried as best I can to give an accurate outline but I find I do not even trust my own mind anymore. Make of it what you will, and burn the notes afterwards lest they fall into the wrong hands.
Farewell dear friend,
Principal Scholar of History, Imperial College at Vaaul
The Dawn of History
Our world is old. Much older that they would have you believe. In fact, it can be said that our Empire is but a flicker in the great fire of history. Empires have risen and fallen before and they will do so again.
The dreaming oracles of Shaddu-Wa tell of beings that sometimes whisper in their dreams: Ancient beings who the oracles call the altheryn*.
The oracles talk of visions of how the altheryn were already ancient when they found our world. How they constructed their marvelous, white towers. How they bent the very fabric of space and time to their will.
How, in their folly, they drew the attention of nightmares and madness given form: The Hashitan Titans, the Sleeping Old Ones, the Ur-Dragons. Whatever the name, it was chaos incarnate and it had come for the altheryn across gulfs of space and time.
* We would call them “starstriders”.
The War of TITAns
Perhaps the oracles had grown addled by their love of the poppy. But there are other sources as well: Certain tablets of immeasurable age, found on the plains of Vahari, that are covered in images both fascinating and terrifying.
I have seen them myself: They show the altheryn, tall, ivory-skinned beings with terrible black eyes, waging war with beasts too grotesque for words. Behemoths of pure chaos that tore down their white cities, ground their bones to dust and feasted on their souls.
Alygon of Yrr* once claimed to have preformed a ritual so powerful, it tore her mind out of time. She claimed to have seen with her own inner-eye how the altheryn retreated through great gateways to lands beyond the stars and how the High King of the starstriders remained behind to seal the gateways from the titans.
She also tells of how, when the writhing mass of chaos fell upon the High King, his death unleashed so much energy that it lay the mountains low and created the reticulum itself: An intricate, magical lacework that enveloped the world and drove the titans back into the voids **.
* Alygon of Yrr was driven quite mad by the experience and we must be careful in placing too much trust in her accounts.
** The reticulum is also the source of all Imperial magic as we know it.
The First Age: THe long dark
Following the altheryan exodus, millennia passed: Ice-ages came and went and continents shifted. How many lesser races and empires rose and fell one can only speculate.
What is know, is that at some point, humankind arose into a warm and damp world covered by jungles and ruled by the cruel lizard-like saurans.
Humans was hunted for food and sport by the saurans and were forced to cower the polar regions where it was too cold for the saurans to follow them. It was through the crucible of the saurans reign of terror that the great human tribes formed in the First Age.
Mastering steel and magic, the first great kings and queens of men led their people in the first great war – driving the saurans from the land and establishing the Second Age.
The Second Age: Rise of an Empire
The Second Age marks a period of expansion for humankind. Spreading from continent to continent, petty kings and warlords fought, conquered and built.
Though it was an age of growth, it was also an age of mysticism, ignorance and war. The strong enslaved the weak and the ground ran red with blood. The cruelty of the men of the Second Age had come to rival that of the saurans they had driven from the land only centuries before.
Into the chaos of the second age, a child was born. Some will have it that he was born to three mothers or that he was descendant from the stars or perhaps that he was the last descendant of a lost line of kings dating back to the first age*. No matter his origin, the boy was named Gallian.
Whether he studied the arcane arts or simply was gifted from birth, the boy grew to become a wizard of immense power. The young man also had an uncanny charisma that drew people to him.
Fanatical followers quickly flocked around Gallian, and it was not long before he drew the ire of the petty wizard-kings and warlords of the region. Whether he ever wanted it or not, destiny was thrust upon the would-be Emperor.
The struggle that followed is well documented in the Imperial canon and though heretical tongues may have differing views, we all know the result: The founding of the Gallian Empire and ushering in of the Third Age.
* Heretics will have it that he was born in a field to simple goat-farmers. They would be flayed for claiming as much.
THe Third Age: The Gallian Empire
With the foundation of the Gallian Empire came a period of unparalleled stability, growth and prosperity. The so called “Gallian Miracles” turned deserts into farmland and glaciers into gardens. Imperial armies conquered all of the known world and the Empire spanned continents. All at the behest of the magnificent Gallian the Great.
For nearly a century he ruled, first among the great wizards. Then, as Imperial orthodoxy will have it, without warning Galling the Great disappeared. The canon will say he transcended his human form and rose to the stars in a flash of light.*
Following the disappearance of Gallian the Great, the Empire has seen seven Emperors. For two millennia they have guided the Empire: some competently, others less so. Though non could rival the power of Gallian himself, they were all spell-casters of formidable power, drawn from the Emperor’s ruling council of High Wizards. They were the “husk lords” of the Empire.
It is posited in the great Edun-Wahit texts on the nature of magic, that all magic in the Empire (or the world for that sake) flows from the altheryan reticulum: The magical lattice that drove the Hasithan titans from the world. There can be no doubt that the Empire’s dependency on the reticulum is like that of a babe to its mothers teat.
Drawing their power from the reticulum, mages can call forth fire and arcane energies, they may bind flesh or bend mind. Mere conjurers tricks! The Edun-Wahits will warn that the reticulum offers even more arcane mysteries: It is not simply a construct that exists in space, but also in multiple dimensions of time. Drawing deeply from the reticulum a magic-user may experience prescience and even the gift of an unnaturally long life.
Have you noticed how the Emperors have longer and longer reigns? Gallian the Great ruled for nearly a century. Arrion the Gray has ruled for nearly five centuries.
* Before he was burned alive, Brendon of Othar, former Imperial Chamberlain, claimed that the Emperor was meditating in the garden of the Imperial palace when “one moment he was there, the other he was not”.
The Final Imperial COnclave
They will burn me alive for writing this, so I beg of you: Read no further! Throw these notes in the fire – It is the ramblings of a mad man! Carry on your life as if you never knew me and enjoy what worldly pleasures your home and family can offer you!
If you must read on, this is what I have shall pay so dearly for: Every seven years the High-Wizards convened with the Emperor himself in a great conclave. Sealing themselves in the Imperial Palace for seven days and seven nights they convende and when they re-emerged, the course for the Empire would be laid out for the following seven years.
But there is more. There say there were rituals. Rituals older than Gallian himself, spoken in the ancient sauren tongue on those conclaves! The saurens understood how the reticulum “blessed” those who drew deeply from it – the long life it offered.
You too must remember the Great Rending 13 years ago? When great tremors toppled castles and giant waves crashed into cities all across the Empire? A common, but powerful earthquake the scholars said. It took my sweet Caryna from us, killed thousands, yet no one will talk about how those sensitive to such things suffered unnaturally gruesome nightmares for months afterwards. For some of us, the nightmares persist to this day!
And the Miracles are failing too! The Cloudspires of Aldon spew black smoke now and the Canals of Garomma flood with foul ichor instead of water! They say even the great Forges have gone out. Deserts are returning, crops fail and hundreds of thousands flee their homes to avoid famine. Worse yet: It does not flow the way it should anymore. The magic! It has become dangerous and unpredictable and the disturbance only seems to worsening.
I have done the calculations Baldwin: The day of the Great Rending fell on the last day of the last Imperial Conclave. Don’t you see: They must have torn it! The High-Wizards, in their greed, must have drunken too deeply from the reticulum! Gallian bless us, now they stir in the dark. The smell of terror has awoken them!
In fact, I fear they are already here.
My Lord High Wizard,
The above letter was intercepted en route to a certain Baldwin of Hawkwind in the Freymark Hinterlands. Due to the “sensitive” nature of the letters content I found it best to inform your excellence of its existence.
The author was found dead by his own hand (self-immolation), and I have dispatched agents to track down, and deal with, the letter’s would-be recipient post haste.
Senseless ramblings of a mad man no doubt, but I feel it is still prudent to strike swift and hard in such cases.
Your humble servant,
Master of the Silver Knights