The Fall of Narthul

Taking a lantern from the wall, they ascended the tower steps to seek out the source of the noise. The upper chamber was cold and a thin mist hung in the air. As they had feared, there were the endless stone steps, leading upwards into blackness. The way stood open and no wards were in place and no guards stood watching.

The work was done to seal the way and a sweep of the mansion began. They found broken glass in lady Fionn’s room, more in the East hall and more in the cloakroom. All of the mirrors had been broken.

It was too dangerous to remain here now and preparations were made to leave the estate entirely until such a time as it could be scoured of its unwelcome visitors. A messenger was sent at once to the Count.

The following morning, a young woman delivering bread from the village found some of the bodies. When her cries for help brought nobody, she ran back to the village and woke everyone with her shouting. By the time help came from the river forts it was much too late to hunt down the visitors. The fall of Narthul had begun.


The County of Narthul is a beautiful place. Most of its towns are built close to one of the forks of the broad river which crosses it. Beyond their fields stretch many miles of densely wooded hills filled with birds and animals of every kind. At the height of its prosperity Narthul was known for its excellent craftsmanship of wood and clothing and for its music and instruments. Although the County had enemies, its armies were strong and its territories easily defensible.

The Count and Mayors of Narthul were for many generations assisted by the efforts of their summoners. The summoners understood the secret of the Stairway and called arcane beings from the higher levels into their service and traded for remarkable artifacts unknown to mortals. It was this exploration of the higher levels which was ultimately Narthul’s undoing.

During the age of exploration, summoners opened the way to the level of the Stairway where the Half Lords slept. They awoke, swiftly overpowered the summoners - to whom they were invisible - and entered Narthul, where they slowly began to amass an army that would later occupy a string of nations. The Half Lords themselves came close to forming the largest empire in history, but underestimated the difficulty of achieving absolute control.

It was nonetheless the legacy of the invasion which eventually ended Narthul’s period of self-rule. Half Knights created during the wars still lived in the woods and even hidden in some towns. They withdrew to the borderlands which once belonged to the Aeltrusian principality and armed them with mirror magics and maps. The raiders struck increasingly effectively into Narthul, whilst the Half Knights hunted the summoners and, where possible, opened their gates to the higher levels of the stairway.

Eventually the woods of Narthul swarmed with raiders and demons, trade all but stopped between the towns and the county gradually collapsed. Those who were able to leave did so, including the Count.

Gozmorran Blades

Gelaner examined the chain at some length, running his hands along it and examining both the cage and the lock. He turned back to the captain and shook his head sadly.

“Irrespective of your orders, we cannot open this. Certainly not today.”

The soldiers proceeded nonetheless to hack at the chain, batter the lock, attempt to lever the cage bars apart and in a dozen other ways to gain entry. This was perhaps not out of disrespect for the adept’s counsel so much as out of desperation. The prisoner clearly found their efforts to free him distressing, but said nothing for fear that they might simply abandon him to die in the cage.

As the sun began to set outside, the captain stood before Gelaner, her arms folded. If they were not to free him, she asked, then what instead might they do.

“I have been contemplating the matter. There is one possibility. Although the chain seems enchanted, a Gozmorran blade might yet sever it. I spoke once to one of the elder Gozmorran. If the petition is made in the right way, perhaps they might lend us a blade…”


The Gozmorran blades, whose name in the Gozmorran language means “weapons of final end”, are exceptionally sharp stone knives said to be able to pierce any armour. Whilst it has been recorded in some texts that the Gozmorran crafted the blades during the mythic epoch, they themselves deny this and claim they were found in caves many hours below the ground.

More remarkable than even the sharpness of these weapons is their capacity to wound and perhaps kill beings impervious to most mortal weaponry. There are tales of them wounding gods and they are widely feared by those with Image blood, to whom they can do strange and terrible harm.

The blades are never wielded lightly, not only because of their fearsome power, but also because causing harm with one is also said to change the wielder. Past wielders of the blades are said to have become more peaceful, often turning to spiritual or philosophical pursuits. Beyond even that, the Unseen Masters of Bylignion believed that the blades cut the very strands of fate. In doing so they freed the wielder from their own destiny, though perhaps only to be ensnared by the destinies of others.

All known Gozmorran blades are made entirely from the same pale, grey stone. Some have in the past had cord grips wound around their handles or been painted to disguise their nature, but such embellishment falls away over time.

In the Lossanbrant during the later years of the Age of Exploration it become fashionable amongst the nobility to buy rare artifacts brought to the nation by traders from distant lands. Fake Gozmorran blades turned up from time to time at auction since they were relatively easy to make and their new owners never intended to wield them anyway. Indeed, it is even possible given the pricing that all involved knew them to be counterfeit but were not unduly concerned.

Hastoro the Bard

“There came six men whose swords were made from stone,
And on the bloodsoaked shore they made their stand,
To slay an ancient god was their desire,
Their victory was the founding of this land.”

- from The Song of the Six Castles.


The dividing line between the Mythic Epoch and the Epoch of Kings is marked by the beginning of written records. However, it is by no means the case that complete histories are immediately known from EK 1 onwards. Rather, it becomes possible to piece together facts from scraps of text and clues provided by buildings, roads and landmarks.

Hastoro the Bard is one of the main reasons why the earlier years of the Age of Wars are known to historians. Although none of his writings survive, his songs and poems became popular enough that many survived as traditional favourites amongst the people of the Long Ocean. Time changed wordings and even entire verses, but comparing different versions allowed the original versions to be reconstructed more than a century after Hastoro’s death.

Hastoro lived his life on the roads and rivers of more than a dozen nations, but his birthplace was probably somewhere in what later became the Gymondan Empire. His lack of title and the fact that his preferred weapon was a wooden staff suggest that he was not noble born. If not then his success in mastering the many languages of the Long Ocean at that time as well as managing some extremely difficult journeys is all the more impressive. It is likely he paid his way by accepting money and gifts in exchange for both performances and the passing on of news from distant places.

Because no definitive list exists of which works Hastoro authored, there are a few for which the attribution is disputed. In particular, whilst the vast majority of his works have been proven accurate in every verifiable detail, there are a few which seem to contradict known history. Some scholars maintain these are intentional works of fiction by Hastoro. Others claim they are not, in fact, his at all. There are even a few who claim that not only was Hastoro the author, but they are indeed correct despite the evidence to the contrary. Whichever is the case, there is no clear partition between these and his other works and by the end of the Age of Exploration entire academic conferences were devoted to debating the details of such questions.

Orchids of Baratheen

Ori the Younger stood a while in puzzlement while butterflies perched on him and flew around him and drops of water from the canopy above soaked his hair and jacket. He remembered plunging into the freezing waves as his ship broke apart around him. He remembered chasing through the Skasport docks, helping a customs warden to catch a fleeing smuggler. He remembered gentle, laughing sex with a woman twice his age. He remembered the pain of a crossbow bolt grazing his left arm as his convoy was attacked.

None of these were his memories. Suddenly Ori was dragged forcibly backwards.

“Don’t breathe the scent, kid,” the Bosun shook him a little and peered into his eyes, “only a fool samples the merchandise, eh?”


The archipelago where the Six Castles stand was formed by long ago volcanic activity. The main islands have been home to human communities since the mythic epoch, but it was not until relatively late in the age of exploration that a further island was mapped more than a day’s voyage to the South. The island of Baratheen consists entirely of the cone of an extinct volcano that rises above the waves of the Southern ocean. The lower slopes are rocky and thick with seaweeds and barnacles. The rim of the crater is likewise rocky, but the rest of the island is covered with plants, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. Within the crater was once a lake, but over millennia rockslides and fallen trees have formed islands and land bridges across parts of the lake which networks of tree roots have knitted together.

One of the rare plants which can be found on the island, growing along the root bridges of the crater, is a species of orchid with striking flowers of white, yellow and blue. The perfume of these flowers has a strange effect upon the mind and senses. Explorers have reported acquiring the memories of others nearby as though they had experienced them themselves. Others tell of hearing voices in a language they didn’t speak, although whether these were imagined or real they never determined. In one account, a woman’s vision was distorted in peculiar ways that enabled her to see around corners, including seeing more than a hundred paces through the jungle as though the trees were no obstruction at all.

Samples of the orchids were taken for study by scholars and alchemists on multiple occasions, but no conclusive results were ever reached. This was in part because the orchids do not grow well away from Baratheen and so sooner or later stop flowering and eventually die. Another problem was that test subjects were not good at accurately reporting their experiences due to the effects of the flowers. In cases where alchemists decided to inhale the perfumes themselves, their notes ran to many pages but contained only incoherent glimpses of strange dreamscapes and barely plausible experiences.

Distilling the perfume into a more readily portable form than the flowers themselves is possible, but the resulting essence is still not very long-lived.

Curse of Guenkhan

A seventh course was brought in by the servants and deposited carefully in front of where the diners ought to have been sitting. By this time many of them were on the floor. Some were in various states of undress and engaged both in throwing food at one another and occasional halfhearted flirting. The robed man who had earlier seemed to be priest had gorged himself excessively and then vomited across part of the table and his bench. No servant approached to clean this up. A young man who was possibly paid entertainment was sitting on the lap of the seneschal and playing a mandolin very badly.

Slowly Semorne rose from his seat. He nodded and bowed politely to anyone who caught his eye, but gradually he made his way out of the room. Politeness was one thing, but surely he had stayed long enough. Trade matters could be concluded in the morning. After all, none of these people were any longer competent to sign any documents.

As he left the room, he felt a powerful sense that something was wrong. One of the noble ladies was wailing as though in pain. There was a rat standing on the prone body of the captain of the guard and he didn’t seem to care. Several of the guests had wide eyes, rimmed with red. Another was trembling uncontrollably. Then Semorne saw a thin, black vapour issuing from the mouth of a young courtier as she slept. Losing the last of his composure he dashed from the room and when he reached his chamber he slid the chest in front of the door and climbed into bed fully clothed.


Of all the nobles houses of the Gymondan Empire the Duke of Guenkhan and his vassals were the most feared and hated. The Duke knew the secrets of many demons and was adept at making pacts with them to defend his lands, foil his enemies and amass vast personal wealth and military power. However, for all his skill the Duke was unwary and gradually the demon Lord Tzan Byzian extended control over his manor and much of the land around.

The so-called curse of Guenkhan was a sickness which pervaded everything there. The place was dark, cold and damp. The wealthy warded off the chill with strong liquor and the distractions of hedonism. The poor lived short, unhappy lives and died from the shadowy sickness. None traced their problems to Tzan Byzian, their minds too clouded with sickness to pursue the mystery of the curse.

For all the dangers of the curse, the allure of its power remained considerable. Strength, wealth, euphoria, the power to breathe underwater or levitate in the night air, sexual prowess or the power of irresistable command were all at hand for those ready to bargain. Guenkhan remained unconquered throughout all of the infighting in the empire until the fall of the empire itself towards the end of the age of wars.

Travellers to Guenkhan were generally unaffected by the curse due to having no direct involvement with the demonic powers. This meant that trade generally proceeded normally in the region, although traders were frequently mistreated and occasionally even murdered. The rest of the empire turned a blind eye to Guenkhan for the most part, with a few failed attempts to unseat the Duke acting as an adequate deterrent to the ambitions of neighbouring powers.

White Sun Crystals

Around the base of the inner gate the pool of water had expanded across the courtyard. The timbers of the gate were soaked and there was clearly no question of their being set ablaze. The veterans amongst them even began to make jokes about it, asking the captain if she’d ever burned down a keep by smoking her pipe too close to the gates.

The mood calmed suddenly as the watch tower called down that the enemy were in sight. So the border towers had not stopped them, then.

Spears and bows were brought to the walls and the waiting began. A group of three riders approached from the enemy, two carrying greatshields with which they protected the third. It was he who called out, in a voice made faint by distance, “Open the gates and bring the prisoner to us and none shall be harmed!”

“Your prisoner is not here,” the captain called back, “you have no business in this fort.”

The rider then drew forth a pouch and took something from it. Even at so great a distance, three small points of light could be seen. The order to fire was given and a couple of arrows even flew true, but the greatshields caught them and the rider seemed untroubled.

The points of light grew to a sphere and from it came a ray of brilliant white that touched the centre of the gate. A faint steam began to rise from the point of impact and then suddenly the beam grew in brightness a hundredfold. Those who looked away or closed their eyes saw only a flash. Those who did not clutched at their eyes in pain and could see nothing but after-images of that terrible beam. The gate disappeared in an instant, burning fragments of timber blasted into the sky, still glowing so brightly that the ships moored at the dock two miles away could see them scattering on the wind.

Terrified sounds filled the courtyard and the captain could see that a horse had been cut down by the beam and its blood was spreading through the pool of water. Then, as she turned, she saw the entire South tower - built from dressed stone blocks - had been destroyed and lay in smoking fragments on the ground. “Flee for your lives!” she cried, then turned and ran from the enemy, scrambling across the hot rubble and running South.


Discovered by the White Sun tribe during the mythic epoch, the crystals were the most terrible of the weapons wielded by mortals during the age of wars. They were discovered after literally falling from the sky and according to the stories were assumed to be fallen stars, but their true origins are not known.

The crystals are translucent and glow with a faint inner light. When held against the skin, such as in the palm of one’s hand, a crystal will begin to glow more brightly. With practice this effect can be controlled purely by imagining the light becoming brighter. If fully controlled, which takes considerable practice, a single crystal can produce enough light and heat to burn a tree to a charcoal trunk. However, the true power of the crystals is unlocked only when they are combined. Each crystal beyond the first doubles the strength of of power they channel. If all six were ever wielded to their full potential together it would be possible to reduce a small town to ash within minutes.

The crystals were separated and scattered during the mythic epoch, but tales of them survived and during the age of wars various factions made efforts to obtain them. Eventually all six were obtained by the necromancer Garath, but he took them from the mortal plane to the Wraithweb palace and never wielded all six together.

Craft of Han Taig

A procession wound its way along the muddy lane. At the front ran two scouts with bows and clarions. Behind them marched six guards, bearing heavy spears and with armour of thick, tanned leather. Behind the guards another six people carried an ornate box of extraordinary beauty. It had the look of a coffin about it, except that surely only a king could afford such fine workmanship and rich materials. Behind the box walked six more people. One of them was a short, hunched man dressed in fine robes embroidered with the same designs as the box. It was his shuffling walk which set the pace and all those with him adjusted their steps to match him.

The children of the village darted amongst the grass and peered out to catch glimpses of this extraordinary sight. Then they swiftly retreated at the humourless glares of the guards.

Arriving at a clearing amongst the trees, the bearers lowered the box on ropes into a deep hole. If this was a grave it was three times the depth of any ever dug before. Sand was poured in upon the box and then oil from huge jugs stored nearby and last of all the great mounds of earth were shovelled in and trampled down. Flagstones were placed on top and then sticks and then these too were buried.

Before they departed, a woman with the group drew forth a bag of bird skulls and began to tie them to the nearby bushes and embed them on sticks in the ground. They warned that this area was a sacred space, never to be disturbed. This done, the group gathered and departed. Only the hunched man turned to look back and even he heaved a great sigh, filled as he was with more worries than hopes.


According to the alchemists of the Lossanbrant there is only one human in history ever to achieve immortality: the once master of the Wraithweb palace Oyishu Han Taig. He was an enormously accomplished wielder of many secrets, which was doubtless what made this feat possible for him, but although he studied moon sorcery he did not himself have image blood.

Perhaps surprisingly, Han Taig kept extensive records of the processes he used. That no other has ever followed in his footsteps is due largely to the fact that his notes remained within the Wraithweb palace following his departure. This was no accident. Oyishu Han Taig had little faith in his fellow mortals to wield the secrets wisely, but felt that any who could find their way to the palace and locate his writings should be permitted to read them.

The process itself is no simple matter and risky to execute even when the proper method is understood. The would-be immortal must construct by alchemical means a lifeless but otherwise faithful copy of their own body. A link is then constructed by means of moon sorcery between the true body and the copy. A route must then be found to a lower level of the Stairway and the copy preserved there in a special casket lined with certain materials and marked in certain ways. No secrets can work in that place, but upon returning, the link with the preserved body is found to be unbroken. When the true body dies the spirit of the deceased drains away down the link, but still it persists and given sufficient time will restore the true body and return to it.

If the true body is destroyed the dead person can still be brought back, but will require assistance from another who knows the ways of the secret. If the preserved body is destroyed, the link is forever broken and the rituals must be begun anew. Should this happen after the true body has died, the person is truly gone and can never return.

The craft of Han Taig can be used for other purposes besides extending life. Links can be formed to a variety of other charms and caches hidden in locations remote from the secret wielder. These can confer strengths, powers and protections of various kinds such as reduced need for food, resistance to heat or cold, the ability to resist certain secrets or diminished need for sleep.

In theory the craft could also be used to harm. The link required would be difficult to form, but once formed could be used to impose sickness, fatigue or curses of various kinds.

Celestial Paths

When all hope of escape is lost, the spears of Ulanquin recall old poems passed down from mother to daughter. In the dark they leap, catching a rope and then along it with a desperate grip and aching arms until at last the lowest rung is reached. Then up the ladder and through the midnight clouds until they find themselves upon a path of stones as black as night. It winds between the stars themselves as far below their pursuers are confounded.

Six score of hours pass before the road is done. This narrow way too perilous for sleep, a deep fatigue has long since claimed them all. There at the end they find a waterfall of tumbling scree and below a mountainous land with no warm hearth of hospitality nor bed of leaves to lay their heads.

Yet when they wake the weary travellers live and rejoice in their good fortune. And they resolve in years to come to tell old poems to their kin.


The celestial paths are all that remains of a system of roads built by ancient demigods during the mythic epoch. They are invisible to the eyes of mortals unless trained in the secret way of finding them. Despite this, a surprising number of them are reachable at some point along their length from places in the mortal world.

Once a celestial path is perceived it is usually possible to gain access to it, although doing so may represent something of a feat of agility since those who made these paths were nimbler and lighter of foot than any human. Some of the paths are short, others extremely long. Any traveller wandering upon them without any guidance risks becoming hopelessly lost or even trapped.

The other endpoints of celestial paths are not necessarily in places which would normally be accessible to mortals. Aeros, the fault realms or even hidden spaces accessible by no other means are all possible destinations. The only thing celestial paths never do is to span multiple levels of the Stairway.

Whilst it is extremely unlikely to encounter anyone else whilst travelling a celestial path, it can happen. In particular, those strong with Image blood sometimes know of the paths and walk them from time to time.

The Sacred Script of Ronunskei

A great cheer went up from the caravan as it became clear that the rocks were no mirage and they would all have shelter from the heat before midday arrived. Water rations were passed out to everyone and then all spread out to find cool alcoves amongst the rocks in which to rest. The breeze which had been blowing dust into their eyes all morning was now welcome and the mood of the group turned from silent worry to cheerful conversation about what each would do when they arrived.

Hodnan, more tired than most from struggling with his mule’s poor behaviour, found a broad rock beneath an overhang and lay down in the shade. At once he fell asleep. Upon waking he felt enormously refreshed. Not only was he not tired, but he was neither hot nor thirsty. At first worried that he had overslept and missed his lunch, he looked to the sky and saw that less than an hour had passed. In fact some of his fellows had not yet removed their boots. Puzzled at his good fortune he turned back to gather his belongings and saw strange symbols carved into the rock he had slept on.

Filled with a sudden panic - for Hodnan was a superstitious man - he swept his possessions from the rock and at once knelt down. He prayed for forgiveness to the spirit of the rock for any transgression and thanked it profusely for its blessing. Then he ran from that place, but the feeling of wellbeing stayed with him and when the time came for the caravan to move on once more it was widely noted that he seemed full of energy and cheer. So fortified was Hodnan that for the rest of the journey even the mule did not seem so bad anymore.


The sacred script of Ronunskei was the first secret ever mastered by mortals. It is an alphabet of over 2000 characters and, used properly, has the power to alter the properties of objects onto which it is written.

The people of Ronunskei used to script a great deal early in the age of wars to protect themselves, to hide themselves from the mythic powers that still roamed the world and to make their lives easier in countless small ways. Each travelling group would have a scribe who had a deep knowledge of the script and at any time this scribe would have at least one apprentice and sometimes as many as three. All would have other duties as well and so it often took a decade or more for such an apprentice to learn the secret well enough to leave and join another group in need of a scribe.

During the age of wars, word gradually spread amongst the Ronunskei in the heartlands that the script had hidden dangers. It was known that poorly formed characters might fail or even produce unintended effects, but gradually rumour spread that even when correctly used the script drew the attention of powers that were not always kindly disposed to mortals. It came to be considered prudent to use the script only for matters of importance. This change in turn led to a decreased demand for scribes and so their numbers dwindled.

By the time of the age of exploration, only a few dozen scribes existed and their knowledge of the script was a pitiful fraction of what was once known.

The general form of the script is still recognised by scholars in the lands south of Granmark and many of them can interpret a few of the more common inscriptions.

Copying an inscription from one surface to another is possible with commonplace tools - a quill and ink for paper or a chisel for stone, perhaps. However, it is rarely the case that an inscription appropriate to one object will serve for another. To learn the correct characters for a given task is another matter entirely and cannot be accomplished purely by studying existing script samples.

Tales are told of extraordinary inscriptions, such as a stone which allows the bearer to breathe underwater or a door which will open only to a specific person. However, inscriptions readily found have less dramatic properties such as maintaining a mild warmth or warding wild animals. By far the commonest surviving inscription is one made upon well stones to maintain the purity of the water.

Peacock Stone Statuettes

“Master! I have found your amulet! It is here, in the mouth of the dog statue!”

Master Wassien turned slowly, then walked the length of the room towards the statue with narrowed eyes. Taking care not to get too close, he peered into the statue’s mouth. Sure enough, there was the compass amulet. However, there was no means by which it could have passed the statue’s rows of pointed teeth.

“A riddle for you, boy. My amulet is in there as you say, but it is impossible to remove and therefore would have been impossible to insert. What do we conclude?”

Resentful at having his moment of triumph turned into a lesson, Wassien’s apprentice frowned at the statue.

“That we must break it?”

“Well, maybe so… But never mind that. What we must conclude is that this statue is able to move!”

The boy stared at the statue. Move? The teeth looked sharp. Its skin, though marbled with exquisite colours, was hard stone. If it moved, it could be very dangerous!

Time passed as his master paced back and forth, lost in thought. At length he seemed to reach a decision.

“I think you were right after all, boy. Go and fetch the heaviest plant pot you can carry from the garden.”


Named for the remarkable iridescent colour of its surface, peacock stone is a material prized by sculptors and used both for artworks and to decorate the houses of the wealthy. Certain statuettes made from this stone conceal a powerful secret. Particular words, spoken nearby, cause them to live. They retain their carved forms, but move and act as the figures depicted. Then, when a second word is spoken, they cease to move once more.

Although typically small in size the statuettes have nearly the strength of humans and move with surprising speed and agility. The winged ones are even capable of flight over short distances. Those with hands or claws can carry small objects.

As well as the words used to bring them to life and return them to dormancy, the statuettes can sometimes understand speech. Indeed, it is possible they all understand speech, but their language varies. None of the statuettes speak.

Commanding the secret of the statuettes safely is a subtle art. Any statuette brought to life wishes only to escape its servitude, but it cannot simply flee or its master would speak the word at once to halt its flight. Likewise, no statuette can simply turn on its master and kill them. Nonetheless, a statuette’s master must remain forever vigilant to either of these possibilities and must only use the statuette for tasks which do not present risk of escape or treachery. The stauettes are not bound by any instruction given to them, but tend to obey for fear of being left forever dormant.

Additionally, care must be taken with who might overhear the command words. A listener with a keen ear might be able to learn the word with sufficient accuracy to reproduce it, at which point the statuette might be stolen with relative ease if the listener were so inclined.