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All of the world's heroes have failed. Seven years ago, the beginning of the end came about in the fires of cataclysm and the footsteps of giants. From milennia of slumber, the fallen runelord Karzoug the Claimer arose to reclaim the nation of Varisia as his own. Under his watchful eye, armies of giants and enslaved servants ravaged the Varisian countryside in a war that was equally as brutal as it was short-lived.
Karzoug's march southward would only be thwarted by the combined efforts of Queen Ileosa of Korvosa and the resurrected ancient blue wyrm Kazavon. When Karzoug paused to consider that which was claimed to him, and Avistan began to breathe, the world shuddered from the unexpected impact of a meteor slamming into what was once the elven
nation of Kyonin, now little more than a fiery wasteland ruled over by the demon lord Treerazer.
As miles of forests burned, ash and smoke were kicked into the skies and earthquakes shook the land. Even the brightest noonday sun looked as dim as dawn, and with that perpetual twilight came the armies of the drow to the surface. Once nightmares and folklore of the elves, the drow brought themselves out of superstition and fairy-tale into the homes and cities of the surface world. Backed by enslaved demons and their own flesh-warped and bloodthirsty kin, the drow carved up the middle of Avistan as their own surface holdings, but found themselves pinned between the armies of Karzoug and Queen Ileosa, and one threat far greater.
In the shadows of Gallowspire, the Whispering Tyrant Tar-Baphon found freedom from his centuries old prison. Released into the world, this ancient evil quickly moved to secure his power base by reclaiming Ustalav as his sovereign domain and enslaving the populace that resisted. Those who bent a knee to their undying lord serve the undead, or have joined them. Only the bastion of Lastwall stands against this corrupting tide, joined in this hopeless battle by unlikely allies in the hordes of Belzken who refused to return to the drudgery of Tar-Baphon's servitude, fighting instead for the freedom of their peoples.
Cheliax suffers under the schism of civil war, with an ongoing battle for the city of Westcrown between hellknight forces, the imperial military, and a secretive council of thieves that threaten to pull the former capitol down by its foundations if they cannot have it for themselves.
In the south, whispers turn to screams as the serpent god Ydersius rises from the dead and his ophidian children stir in the jungles and marshes, Villages and cities disappear overnight, and the shadow of the serpent god crosses Garund. But the fires that encompass all that was once Katapesh keep Ydersius at bay for the unearthly spawn of Rovagug, Xotani the fire bleeder, turned the once majestic kingdom into a sea of glass.
Stories from the far east tell of the fall of Imperial Minkai under the sway of an army of powerful oni that have enslaved the empire's peoples and begun to wage war on the surrounding dragon empires.
Golarion teeters on the brink of destruction, and in this darkest hour, the endless approach of winter may well be the final nail in a coffin already lowered into the ground.
Regional Changes Revealed Thus Far
For a nation that supports itself on the twin pillars of liberty and freedom, little could shake the foundations of Andoran like the return of the runelord of greed, Karzoug the Claimer. Arising from myth and legend Karzoug's emergence in Varisia, while geographically distant, had immediate and severe implications for Andoran. Karzoug's ruthless and sudden campaign against the city-states of Varisia ended with the enslavement of thousands. In the first year of his campaign alone, cities numbering in the tens of thousands fell to the Runelord's power. Andoran could not, in good conscience, sit idly by while tens of thousands of free people were either enslaved or put to the sword.
Unfortunately for both Andoran and Varisia, the one response that Andoran could have swiftly given that may have impeded Karzoug's campaign would have been exercising Andoran's significant naval armada. Unfortunately, with the arch of Aroden occupied by Cheliax, Andoran's naval response was months delayed as they were forced to sail around the treacherous southern tip of Garuna and back up the Garundi coast and through the shackles. Whittled down by storms, piracy and creatures of the sea the Andoran fleet's arrival in Riddleport was nto the thunderous reinforcement they had expected.
By the time the naval fleet arrived in Riddleport in the fall of 4708, the city had already been overtaken by Karzoug's forces. The fleet attempted a bombardment of the city's defenses, but were met with the hurled rocks and spears of rune giants that demolished entire ships and killed hundreds. Seeking shelter in the port of Korvosa, the fleet learned from its queen Ileosa Arabasti that everything north of Korvosa had fallen to Karzoug, but that the Korvosan forces were planning a counter-offensive.
This was the last recorded piece of information that ever made it back to the Golden Aerie in Andoran's capital regarding the fleet. The men and women aboard the twenty-six ships were never heard from again. With their naval power crippled by this loss, Andoran withdrew its plans for an offensive and were forced to watch as Varisia was consumed by the forces of greed. Dissatisfied with the response of some within the government, a rogue knight-commander of the Eagle Knights Steel Falcons took his personal squad and left for Varisia. His fate and the fate of his men is unknown.
Just as Andoran was coming to grips with the rise of the runelord Karzoug, in 4709, rumors began to spread of Queen Ileosa's seizure of Korvosa and the enactment of some sort of magic that slayed thousands of Korvosans. Unable to attribute it to Ileosa or Karzoug clearly, the Eagle Knights patiently watched and listened for reports trickling in from Varisia, each more horrifying than the last. All of this, however, was overshadowed by the coming cataclysm.
While the people of Andoran couldn't have seen the haze of darkness hovering over Kyonin for two days, couldn't see the streak of light inside of it, couldn't see the meteor that was called from those inky depths, they felt it. The impact of a meteor pulled from the heavens impacting Kyonin and destroying the elven nation entirely set off earthquakes across the world. Andoran was wracked by short but intense earthquakes that caused significant damage across the country. As the skies turned dark, day turned to night and the people of Andoran feared what would be a second time of darkness was upon them.
The world was not thrust into perpetual darkness, but more like eternal twilight. After the quakes and flooding subsided, Andoran's first real grasp of what happened came with a flood of elven refugees fleeing the burning wasteland that had once been their home. Stories came in all sizes, most of them harrowing and apocalyptic. Worse yet were stories that came in over the year that dark-skinned elves -- the mythic drow of folklore and superstition -- were indeed real and possibly responsible for the calamity.
Prepared to accept tens of thousands of refugees, the sobering truth of the matter was that less than one thousand refugees made it to Andoran, and only a third of them elven. Many refugees came from regions surrounding Kyonin, as uncontrolable wildfires drove villagers from their homes.
During the aftermath of Kyonin's destruction and the influx of refugees from the country word also reached Andoran of Cheliax's brewing civil war. Andoran spies within Cheliax determined that a rogue council of tieflings had purportedly thwarted an infernal incursion into the city of Westcrown and claimed control of the city from the Chelish government. The bloody battles being waged for Westcrown were fought against the backdrop of greater chaos.
Attempting to more thoroughly assess the situation in Cheliax, Andoran sent members of the twilight talons into Westcrown to determine the intent of the rebellion. It became swiftly apparent to them that the individuals in charge of Westcrown that were battling the Chelish government were largely composed of brigands, assassins, murderers and the like that took Westcrown in a bloody coup. The twilight talons were recalled back to Andoran, and the nation soon found itself surrounded on nearly all sides by strife.
In 4710, utilizing their position as central to many of the present conflicts but remote enough to remain unaffected by them, Andoran established reconaissance teams that would infiltrate Varisia and Cheliax to keep the Eagle Knights abreast on ongoing dangers to their nation's security, and to illuminate areas where Andoran could assist those in need. Andoran's spies and scouts present in Ustalav were among the first to spread word of Tar-Baphon's resurrection in 4710, though their failed attempt to rally Ustalav to the defensive cost hundreds of Andoran lives.
Serving as eyes and ears in secret, the twilight talons of Andoran relayed messages between Varisian refugees, crusaders of Lastwall and other nations beset upon by strife and conflict in these troubling times. The twilight talons, unbeknownst to much of the world, were quickly becoming the primary source for information trafficking through dangerous regions like Ustalav and Varisia and even aided in the initial diplomatic gestures of the Belkzen orcs towards Lastwall.
As the years wound on, weather globally worsened with sharp declines in temperature leading to longer winters and record amounts of snowfall in Andoran. Preparations for long winters began to become insufficient as planting and harvesting seasons dramatically shortened. By 4714 Andoran was suffering from food shortages and trade across the Inner Sea with other Garundi nations that were not as hard hit by the weather was problematic due to the destruction of Katapesh. The much reviled Aspis Consortium, now chief among trade organizations on the Inner Sea, levied huge taxes on Andoran import of food in retaliation against years of liberation of Aspis-owned slave vessels from Katapesh.
Paying exorbitant prices for food staples meant higher prices for food in markets when local farms began to become unable to produce crops. Food riots in major cities soon followed and order within Andoran began to break down.
In response to this dramatic shift in weather and the growing food crisis, many nations of the Inner sea, Andoran among them, sent diplomatic and scholarly envoys to the city of Absolom to participate in a summit of nations to discuss the state of the region. While heated topics such as the rise of Shalast, Tar-Baphon's return and the resulting war were on many lips the impending ice age was the unifying topic of discussion. The end result of the week long summit was each nation forming a special task force designed to investigate a possible source of the weather and -- if possible -- bring it to an end.
With no other recourse but to institute food rationing in 4715 most Andoran cities were experiencing civil dissent and violence while their nation struggled to find a cause of the weather and reverse it before it was too late.
Land of the Linnorm Kings
Ruin is what the people of the north know now. First, ruin came from the hands of Karzoug the Claimer. When the ancient Runelord of Greed arose from the mountains of Varisia to reclaim his kingdom, he sent forth armies of giants to the north to scatter the Shoanti tribesmen and press on into the northern lands. The Linnorm Kings and their people met Karzoug's giants with the ferocity and heroism expected of their people, but Karzoug's tenacious strategies soon entrenched the Ulfen in a war of attrition against a larger and more powerful army.
Holding their own for years, it was only the icy grasp of unending winter that would weaken the Ulfen resolve. After seven years of battling Karzoug's forces in off-and-on skirmishes and sporadic sieges, starvation and the elements proved to be the enemy that this land could not as readily weather.
Whole crops failed over the three most recent years and thousands died of hunger. Low food stores soon resulted in riots and in-fighting among an already disparate and crippled people. Karzoug likely would have finished off the Ulfen people, were it not for his own kingdom suffering equally under the weight of winter snow and biting ice. The winter has proven to be a stalemate for the two forces, which is likely all well considering each of the Linnorm Kings have broken away from one another, turning their holds into selfish city-states that struggle to maintain the lives of their own people at the sake of all others.
A uniting force, and a reprieve from this abysmal weather, is needed to save these people before the Lands of the Linnorm Kings fades into icy memory.
When the spawn of Rovagug, Xotani the Fire Bleeder, was unleashed on Katapesh, many survivors of the initial attack fled across the sea towards Jalmeray. Initially the tiny island nation attempted to take in all whom fled from the living apocalypse, but soon they found Niswan flooded with refugees and the expanding refugee camps around the city began to become havens of violence and despair.
As refugees poured in by the thousands, the Jalmerani government was forced to close its borders. Under order of Thakur Kharswan all other ships approaching Jalmeray were to be turned around. Several desperate ships packed full of those fleeing the devastation of Xotani tried to bypass this blockade and found their ships demolished by armies of summoned marid genies, swallowed into the waves.
Now, with their ports blocked and transport in and out of Jalmeray by ship closed off, the island nation has struggled to maintain its exploded population and keep the disparate refugees under control. The Impossible Kingdom lives in constant threat of Xotani's approach, but they believe (in false hope) the large body of water between them and mainland Garund will spare them its inevitable wrath once it becomes active again.
With weather turning for the worst, global temperatures dropping and the dust cloud from the meteor impact darkening the skies Jamleray struggles to stay prosperous. While their near equitorial position provides Jalmeray with an overall warmer climate it will only be a matter of time before snow falls even there. They cannot remain shut off from the world for much longer.
Note: While ship travel in and out of Jalmeray is restricted, PCs can be presumed to have a special dispensation for travel either physically or magically.
When a meteor impacted with Kyonin six years ago, the disastrous impact kicked up a cloud of dust and ash into the skies that blanketed much of Avistan in perpetual twilight. While the skies have cleared somewhat, day has never felt as bright and the skies seem perpetually shrouded in a thin overcast haze.
This time of second darkness has empowered the faith of Zon-Kuthon, and nowhere is this felt stronger than in the shadowy nation of Nidal. While their nortern border is "protected" by the presence of both Queen Ileosa and the Zon-Kuthon servant Kazavon, Nidal still fears an attack from the Runelord of Greed is inevitable.
Since the time of darkness, with much of Avistan distracted by the destruction of Kyonin and the rise of the runelord Karzoug, Nidal has expanded its influence eastward in a bloody expansionist campaign and reinforced their southern borders in the event that Cheliax's civil war threatens to spill out into their dominion.
All expansion of Nidal has swiftly come to a halt with the encroachment of endless winter, and the Nidalese government has pulled back its advanced forces and focused on keeping its populace fed and has raided eastern lands for necessary food and supplies when their own run low.
The last seven years have not been good to the Society. The already fractious organization has completely shattered under the stress of Karzoug's return and the other calamities that have befallen Golarion. The Grand Lodge of Absalom continues its efforts as it once did, but its numbers are dramatically diminished. In some aspects, the Pathfinder Society is seeking to record and chronicle the present in time capsules in the event that civilization does not recover from the encroaching dark age.
The Varisian Sczarni lodge was demolished by Karzoug's return and the surviving members either fled into other lands or were assimilated into the resurgent Runelord's armies as spies and infiltrators.
The Lantern Lodge has withdrawn its explorers in light of the approaching war from Minkai and little has been heard of them in two years since war came to Goka.
The other lodges are still operational, though are channeling their resources in much the same way as the Grand Lodge is, trying to record the knowledge of the current era so that future generations -- if society collapses -- will have a light to guide them out of the darkness.
What was initially a rousing victory for Cheliax would inevitably become one of the worst military failures of the nation's history. When much of Avistan was struggling to come to terms with the second Earthfall, the destruction of Kyonin and the resurgence of Thassilon and the Runelord of Greed Karzoug, Cheliax was already moving on a long-seeded plan to purge the Shackles of pirates and claim the land as their own.
A protracted and brutal naval war consumed much of Cheliax's resources during this time, and while the brunt of their naval forces were away, they were unprepared to reclaim Westcrown when the Council of Thieves made their bid to claim the city from under Chelish rule.
While the Chelish navy was able to take control of the shackles, they were unprepared for what would become a constant war with the serpentfolk of Ydersius reborn. Mired in the Shackles and the Sodden Lands, the Royal Chelish navy collapsed under their inability to maintain a foothold of power against the vestigial remnants of the Pirate King Bonefist's armies and skirmishes from the serpentfolk.
Eventually the battered and diminished survivors of the armada returned to Cheliax too late to reclaim Westcrown and too battered to have maintained their hold on the Shackles.
Now, the region remains as lawless as it once was, but with the ever-present threat of the expansionist serpentfolk claiming landborn territory piece-by-piece.
The River Kingdoms
Disaster comes in many shapes and sizes, and for disparate kingdoms such as those that make up the patchwork quilt of the River Kingdoms, disaster can be as manifold and unique as their city-states and fiefdoms.
Disaster first came in the form of devastating floods following the destruction of Kyonin. The impact of the second Earthfall that destroyed the elven nation and brought the world into a second age of darkness also sent literal shockwaves through Golarion. These earthquakes and tsunamis surged up through the network of rivers that criss-crosses the River Kingdoms and flooded thousands of square miles of land, dispersing entire kingdoms and displacing thousands of people. This was on top of the raging wildfires lit by second Earthfall that spread across the land, some that are still burning seven years out. The smoke from which blankets the southern River Kingdoms and coats dead forests in feet of choking ash and soot.
Those unfortunate few who fled north into the Stolen Lands and Pitax during those tumultuous years were soon to discover they had run straight into yet another oncoming disaster. Thousands of miles of territory on the southern border of Brevoy simply vanished in one horrifying night as a tremendous desert swallowed the land and caused the disappearance of everyone living in the kingdom at the time.
No sign of ruin or any recognizable landmark remains, only a swath of wasteland from as far west as Echo Wood and east to the border of Iobaria.
Following the disappearance of the Stolen Land and the emergence of the wasteland in its stead, Brevoy was visited by an ancient power equally terrible as it is cruel. Calling itself Choral the Conquerer, the historic but lost unifier of Brevoy, yet in an unthinkable outrage, rather than being a man of flesh and blood, the more than 2-centuries old king is nothing less than a fortress-sized dragon. Sweeping down upon New Stetven and proclaiming his right to the Dragonscale Throne, the great red dragon obviously differs from the historians’ tales of the father of Brevoy. Yet, tales of the Conqueror’s draconic allies and the wyrm’s more than encyclopedic knowledge of the lost lord’s life and secrets make his claim all the more possible.
Since the day of Choral's return, the people of Brevoy have been under the thrall of this draconic oppressor, ruling "his" kingdom in uncontested tyranny. Confident to leave better enough alone, not even Tar-Baphon has extended his reach east towards Brevoy for lack of desire to combat Choral and his enslaved legions.
The people of Brevoy had only a handful of choices upon Choral's return; fight, submit, or flee. The former option turned rather quickly into die as none possessed the strength to so much as threaten Choral, never-mind injure. Those who took the latter option and fled did so in whatever direction they well could. Some fled to Numeria, only to be slaughtered as they attempted to cross the country's now closed borders. Others had better luck attempting to disappear into fire-ravaged Razmiran or east into Iobaria. Some fled south into the Wasteland, but they were never heard from again.
No other location in the world profits from the concept of war economy like the grand duchy of Alkenstar. With Golarion thrown into cataclysmic upheval and war, the Grand Duchy made an unprecedented push to arm the peoples of Golarion for these conflicts. Following the rise of the Spawn of Rovagug and the destruction of Katapesh, the Gunworks of Alkenstar began tripling the output of firearms and arranging for shipping lanes to embattled nations to be created.
Forming a powerful alliance with the Aspis Consortium, the Duchy has funneled thousands of firearms into the Avistan region at exorbitant prices for wholesale purchase. They have also begun the mass production of siege firearms for warships and prototypes of advanced siege firearms that, according to rumors, will change the face of warfare itself.
Geographically isolated from the major conflicts, Alkenstar has only had to contend with a downward trend in global temperatures, which the hardy people of the Mana Wastes have weathered resiliently. Already needing to resort to alternative crop irrigation and harvesting, Alkenstar is one of the few global settlements where hunger is not an issue.
Only recently have their troubles started to compound, as serpentine scouts from the Mwangi Expanse have begun slipping east into the wastes.
Special Note: The Mana Wastes is considered to be a firearms everywhere location. As such, firearm prices are cheaper from characters starting from that region, and proficiency for characters trained in that region is handled differently, per the "firearms everywhere" rule.
Characters venturing outside of the Mana Wastes, firearms/ammunition are crafted as per the "commonplace guns" rules, representing more limited resources. But proficiency and starting gear remain at the better value.
Spared the wrath of the runelord Karzoug, the nation of Nirmathas weathered the return of Thassilon thanks in part to the buffer created by Korvosa and the presence of the immortal queen Ileosa and the dragon Kazavon. However it has always been clear that this protection is merely an illusion of safety, for if that pair ever turned their steely gaze on the forest kingdom of Nirmathas little would remain but ruin.
Unfortunately, the aftermath of the second darkness was devastating to Nirmathas. A tsunami ravaged the coastal regions of the country, wiping out villages and cities as a fifteen foot wall of water rolled twenty miles inland. In the wake of that, incursions from Nidal have increasingly put pressure on the remaining settlements, however the Nirmathi irregulars and their guerrilla tactics have prevented that encroachment from the shadow kingdom from growing too great.
Sects of the church of both Desna and Milani have strongly influenced the region, and most able-bodied men and women have taken up arms to protect the Nirmathan borders from Nidalese aggression, all while nervously watching their northern borders.
Erutaki of the Crown of the World
The malevolent sylph Katiyana remains a strong presence on the crown of the world, and while she hasn't subjugated the entirety of the Crown of the World, many Erutaki settlements are destroyed, and a large number of them fled south into the Lands of the Linnorm Kings or the land of the Mammoth Riders. Some small settlements still eke out an existance on the crown of the world, too.
Realm of the Mammoth Lords
Once the last bastion of Kellid society where their people's tradition was upheld, the Realm of the Mammoth Lords could have weathered the endless winter successfully, had that not also come with incursions from the icy realm of Irrisen and a more horrifying enemy to the south.
The Rise of Karzoug and the return of Tar-Baphon had no impact on Kellid life, so far removed from these regions. The impact that destroyed Kyonin touched the Kellid only in that they witnessed the sky turn gray and the sun never fully emerge. But when Queen Elvanna of Irrisen began sending her dire armies eastward in an attempt to claim the holds of the Kellid for her kingdom, they were unprepared.
Kellid might as it is, the Irriseni armies were prepared for a difficult battle. Unfortunately, the lack of cohesion from one tribe to the next meant that the Kellid never learned from their mistakes in battles as tribes fell to the Irriseni forces.
The nation of Irrisen, however, could not have predicted a remarkable and terrifying turn of events in this conflict. As the Irriseni marched eastward with armies of frost giants, winter wolves and evil fey, they encountered something in the snow that had been slumbering for centuries.
Black metal, glowing red eyes, and able to spit slugs of metal and burning beams of energy from its body, the harvesting machine of Numeria was match enough for an entire army all on its own. Uncontrollable and fashioned of unfathomable technology, the Annihilator decimated the Irriseni forces and forced them to retreat.
The Kellid won no victory in this, however, as the Annihilator quickly turned its attention on the Kellid tribes. Stories of those who survived claimed that the Annihilator moved from tribe to tribe and village to village harvesting the living and stowing their screaming forms inside of its mechanical body.
After thousands of Kellid were harvested, the Annihilator disappeared into the frozen wastes, leaving the scattered survivors in awe of its power and terror of its return.
In the Kingdom of Man, the return of the Runelord of Greed and the resurrection of Tar-Baphon are distant worries. Cheliax embroiled in civil war gave the nation opportunity to reclaim their northern penninsula from the theist nation in a bloody siege that gave them control of the southern side of the Arch of Aroden and therefore part of the gateway to the Arcadian Ocean.
Second Darkness impacted Rahadoum by motivating their already prestigious college of wizardry and sorcery to research ways to clear the skies of dust to allow sunlight to return to their land. Unfortunately, this research is many years out from baring any fruit, and the coming of years of winter has impeded this.
Rahadoumi scholars have been researching the drop in global climates, and while their secular society has made the connection between the meteor impact and the dust in the sky contributing to lowering temperatures, they have also realized that magic is at work. Rahadoum seemed content to take their time researching this, right up until the city of Manaket was destroyed in a single night just five months ago (17th Calistril, 4715 AR).
From the reports that have made it out of Rahadoum, in one dark and cold night the city of Manaket was swallowed by in a sudden blizzard that erupted from one of the market plazas. Spires of ice tore up from the ground, people were flash frozen to death in a hurricane of snow and ice, and entire buildings shattered from the sudden temperature drop.
Since that day, a swirling tornado of snow has loomed over Manaket and reports of creatures not native to Garund emerging from the city's ruins alongside hosts of frozen undead have emerged. Few outside of Rahadoum know this has occured.
Due to its distance and relative isolation from Avistan, the tumultous last few years have largely left Thuvia unaffected. Word of Xotani's destruction of Katapesh reached the ears of the various city-states, but no comprehensive agreement that the stories were anything but fiction was come to in those early years.
Second darkness was a point of focus for the Thuvians, and much wealth was funneled into research regarding ways to clear the skies of the dust and ash that blocked out most of the sun. In 4714 when refugees from Katapesh finally began pouring into Thuvia, belief that a spawn of Rovagug had truly awakened sent shockwaves through Thuvian society.
For a year, riots and violence rocked the desert nation as fearful citizens fought over stores of food with not only one another but also the refugees that had come from neighboring Osirion, fleeing the path of Xotani.
The disparate city-states began imposing harsh martial law on their populace and forcing foreign refugees out into the deserts or into cramped fishing boats to be set adrift on the Inner Sea. As the rulers of Thuvia closed their borders and clamped down to try and weather the coming storm, their lack of cohesive unity would appear to set the stage for their undoing.
Xotani the Fire-Bleeder destroyed the empire of Katapesh in a single night, but contingencies were already in place by the Pactmasters for this eventuality. Fleeing to Osirion, the mysterious otherworldly rulers of Katapesh made a plea with the Ruby Prince for safe haven, one that he would honor... for a time.
Osirion was clearly imperiled by Xotani's return and the destruction of Katapesh. First and foremost were the scores of refugees flooding into Sothis, crowding the tent cities and bazaars, packing the streets with their masses. Already suffering from poor crop growth due to the second darkness, the approach of global temperature decline struck Osirion hard.
Faced with the starvation of his people, overcrowding and the threat of Xotani Prince Khemet slipped further and further into depression and madness. The fire elemental adviser long since bound to his service, however, began whispering a plan into the weary prince's ear. One that, inevitably, would break the prince's will.
The plan that Janhelia, Khemet's fire-elemental advisor outlined, was a broad and sweeping one. Using his divine authority, the Ruby Prince had his risen guard sweep through Sothis and gather up all of the refugees from Katapesh under the promise that he would personally lead them to a new home to remain safe in, away from Sothis. Few truly believed the prince's words, but most suspected that they would be loaded onto ships and sent to the Inner Sea.
None were prepared for the truth.
Khemet had, in secret, been using his powers to communicate with another entity that would ensure the safety of his people at Janhelia's urging. The refugees of Katapesh and the Pactmasters themselves were brought by crook and lash outside of Sothis in view of the city's gates, where Khemet proceeded to deliver a babbling speech about the responsibility of rulers to their people. During this chaos, the Pactmasters knew something unfortunate was in store for them, and utilized illusion magic to ensure their escape back into Sothis.
Before he even finished his speech, the ground began to quake and the refugees panicked. Surrounded by Khemet's risen guard they were forced to remain penned in as Wrath-Blazing Xotani the Fire-Bleeder erupted from the ground and burned alive tens of thousands of refugees. Watching the people consumed by flames and destruction, Ruby Prince Khemet fell to his knees and proclaimed himself loyal servant of Xotani and Herald of Rovagug if the fire-bleeder would but spare his people.
Xotani ignored the Ruby Prince's plea, and soon the prince himself became the next devoured by the Fire-Bleeder. Xotani briefly turned its attention on Sothis, demolishing the southern quarter of the city before withdrawing into the Darklands and leaving Osirion to burn.
The survivors of the mad prince's death and Xotani's rampage worked to quench the fires and try and bring about a semblance of order in the city. A tentative council of merchant lords, a Pathfinder Venture Captain, the royal Crook Bearer of Osirion and the surviving Pactmasters have formed an interim government and have reached out to other nations for help. As a sign of good will, they joined the council that met in Absalom to cooperate in the end of the reign of winter that approached.
The destruction of Kyonin across Lake Encarthan did tremendous damage to the nation of Lastwall. The tidal wave that spread from the impact and crossed lake Encarthan devastated coastal communities and sent a fifteen-foot high wall of water nearly ten miles inland. With the skies blackened by ash and dust, rumors of an arisen runelord reaching the nation, there was little the people of Lastwall could have imagined to make the situation worse. The resurrection of Tar-Baphon on Pharast 13, 4710 proved that any situation can deteriorate further.
Founded to prevent this very situation from occuring, the resurrection of the Whispering Tyrant Tar-Baphon sent shockwaves through the crusader-nation. Disbelief was the initial reaction, and many among Lastwall's leadership believed that it was a powerful lich pretender to the throne, a servant of the Whispering Tyrant of old attempting to reclaim his name and title to ue as an instrument of fear. Underestimating the dire severity of the situation was one of Lastwall's greatest follies. A small contingent of knights and scouts was sent north into Ustalav to investigate these claims. They returned as a band of wights and vampires at the head of a vanguard of undead legions numbering in the thousands.
While the attack came without warning in the dead of night, the siege of Vigil was a brief but bloody conflict meant to serve as a message to the crusaders of Lastwall: you are not safe. Lastwall's response was hastily made but decisive; a rallying of their forces and an immediate march northward into Ustalav in an attempt to crush the rise of the Whispering Tyrant once again.
What baffled scholars back home but was disregarded in the initial knee-jerk reaction to move against Tar-Baphon was that no one within the watchful societies of Lastwall in Ustalav had heard even rumor of Tar-Baphon's return or his agents moving to accomplish this task. Ultimately, the truth would come out in Gallowspire when traitors in the ranks of Lastwall's crusaders, secretly loyal to the cult of the Whispering Way turned on their former allies and led to a routing of the Lastwall response.
This defeat could have led to the annihilation of the people of Lastwall as their defenses were crippled by the loss of so many crusading knights. However, as Tar-Baphon's armies marched south and east, claiming territory of Ustalav, they ran into opposition from an unexpected source. With their western front only lightly defended, the legions of Tar-Baphon did not predict an offensive staged by the orc hordes of Belkzen that refused to bend a knee to emissaries of the Whispering Tyrant sent out into their lands. Once servants of Tar-Baphon, many of the proud orc clans refused to rejoin the Tyrant's armies and turned on their once and former master.
When the orcs of Belkzen mounted their first offensive in Rova of 4710 it gave the knights of Lastwall an opportunity to coordinate their forces while Tar-Baphon recalculated his approach. Reaching out with magical communication, Lastwall contacted the bulwark of the Knights of Ozem located in Mendev with a plea for aid. Turning regiments of their own crusaders from the Worldwound towards Ustalav, the Knights of Ozem and scores of Mendev crusaders focused their zeal and strength towards the Whispering Tyrant's forces. Unfortunately, the call for aid send to the dwarves of Kraggodan that helped defeat Tar-Baphon in the Shining Crusade of ages past went unheard, likely due to activities of the arisen runelord Karzoug in their home region of the Mindspin Mountains.
In Abadius of 4711 the combined forces of Lastwall and Mendev moved for their first consolidated offensive in reclaiming the bastion-city of Karcau in northeastern Ustalav. Surprising the Whispering Tyrant's forces with a night time attack, the crusaders breached the defenses of Karcau and moved on the city's heart. Employing rotating ranks of calvary charges and pikemen combined with a back rank reinforced with cleric acolytes channeling positive energy the crusaders were able to hammer deep into Karcau.
The decisive turn in the battle came when the cultists of the Whispering Way in charge of the city unleashed a powerfully virulent alchemical disease through the flooded canals and catacombs beneath Karcau. Filtering upward through draining systems, the plague affected both the living and the dead with equal measure. Killing the living and quickly animating the dead as plagued zombies the surprise attack killed hundreds of living cultists but demolished the crusaders forces, causing a full retreat while bolstering the number of undead in Karcau.
With a second staggering defeat, Lastwall was desperate for a victory. Through much of 4711 the crusaders licked their wounds and watched as Tar-Baphon solidified his hold on Ustalav. Helpless, they witnessed the fall of Caliphax and what amounted to the death of Ustalav as the world has come to know it.
In Erastus of 4711 the orcs of Belkzen made the first diplomatic gestures towards Lastwall. Despite generations of conflict and distrust, the common enemy represented in Tar-Baphon proved to be too great a foe for either nation to truly handle on their own. Months of negotiations, disagreements and skirmishes later, the orc hordes of Belken that defied Tar-Baphon agreed to form a tenuous alliance against the Whispering Tyrant for the betterment of all peoples. To the disbelief of nearly every seasoned veteran, the orcs of Belkzen upheld their promise and began sending forces into Lastwall to bolster the defenses of thinly manned fortifications.
Over the next five years, integration of the orc warriors among the human population of Lastwall became commonplace, if not still disconcerting to many. Likewise, the presence of non-orc soldiers in Belkzen marked the first time in history that the two races cooperated towards a common goal, as uneasy as the truce may yet be.
Even still, though, the forces of the Whispering Tyrant recognize the power of this alliance in the combined military might of the two peoples. Agents of the Whispering Way attempt to disrupt this truce in any way they can, and the constant harrying by Karzoug's forces in the west of Belkzen has also been a persistant distraction to the orcs. The Whispering Tyrant knows full well, though, if the orcs of Belkzen fall to Karzoug, he will become the runelord's next target.
For the crusaders of Lastwall, they can only hope the two titans destroy themselves before long.
Ruled by anarchy and the will of the strong, the Hold of Belkzen stood for generations as an example of orcish savagery and ferocity. In 4708 the return of the runelord Karzoug the Claimer changed everything for these disparate people. Within months of his return, Karzoug had marshalled an army of rune giants, ettins and other creatures to strengthen the borders of his domain. Marching east into Belkzen, these giant armies clashed immediately with the orcish tribes, laying waste to their unprepared and largely unorganized forces. As survivors fled the vanguard of the giants, word began to spread from tribe to tribe of the Claimer's return.
No whole tribe made the decision to serve Karzoug, but those orcs who (out of fear, respect, or some measure of both) turned on their kin and bowed to Karzoug's rule became known as the sihedron clan, branded for their loyalty by the seven-pointed sihedron rune on their bodies. These "traitorous" orcs were the first among their kind, but not the last, to turn on their own blood to save themselves.
As Karzoug's forces began pressing deeper into Belkzen, finding the chaotic disorganization of the orcs easy to take advantage of, the tribes were making preparations for an unprecedented summit of their people. Orchestrated by Hundux Half-Man of the Murdered Child clan and Grask Uldeth Empty Hand tribe, the summit of chieftans was to be a unifying battle cry for the people of Belkzen. Unfortunately, the majority of Belkzen tribes sees Uldeth and Half-Man's ideals of a unified horde an unrealistic proposal. The differing idologies, religions and ambitions of each chieftan resulted in the summit being regarded as a colossal waste of time and a failure at rallying the tribes to cooperate. In 4710, however, that attitude would change.
When Tar-Baphon was reborn in the shadows of Gallowspire, the first act of the Whispering Tyrant was to rebuild his forces as quickly and quietly as possible to prevent a rallying of the Lastwall knights into a second Shining Crusade. This task was accomplished by sending his surviving lieutenants and allies west into the Hold of Belkzen, a region where death and war was a way of life. The Tyrant's generals recruited the orc tribes that would bent a knee in fealty to their undying lord, ruthlessly enslaved the corpses and souls of those who resusted and purged that which remained.
As word of the slaughter and enslavement spread, Grask and Hundux once more appealed to the remaining chieftans to unite -- now not merely against Karzoug, but Tar-Baphon reborn as well. Faced with the destruction or enslavement of their peoples, the remaining chieftans agreed to the terms of the unification, and began planning an all-out assault on Tar-Baphon's forces to drive him back out of Belkzen. Unbeknownst to the other chieftans, orc warlord Krun Thuul of the Black Sun tribe had made a secret arrangement with emissaries of Karzoug the Claimer. Leading warriors from the Black Sun tribe in a brutal series of guerrilla-style attacks, Krun Thuul managed to dash early attempts at unification and press the orc tribes of Belkzen that did not swear loyalty to the Black Sun into a deadly pincer between Karzoug's armies and the undead legions of Tar-Baphon.
In desperation, the remaining tribes that had not been pressed into service turned to their chieftans for guidance. From a meeting of their minds, an unlikely plan of action was born, and Grask Uldeth proposed an alliance with the humans of Lastwall against their common enemy in the Whispering Tyrant. Initially met with disbelief and refusal, the reality of their situation was unable to be ignored.
By Erastus of 4711, in a series of good-will trades of prominent orcs from the tribes that made up the Belkzen summit and often times contentious attempts at diplomacy, the orcs eventually saw positive response from representatives of Lastwall. The Belkzen orcs benefit from the added presence of human crusaders in their land fighting the Whispering Tyrant, while the humans gain the ferocity of allied orcish fighters and deadly siege engines from the Steel Eater clan. Pushed to their limits and forging alliances with once bitter enemies, the orc tribes of Belkzen rallied themselves together to fight alongside humans and other races against Tar-Baphon and their traitorous kin. Five years on, this tenuous alliance has been tested time and again, but has remarkably managed to remain intact.
Five Kings Mountains
When the runelord Karzoug made his presence known in Varisia by initiating a violent campaign of conquest, the dwarves of the Five Kings Mountains turned a wary eye towards the western human lands, but stayed their hand in any requests for aid that came to them. Communications from Janderhoff were the dwarves' primary source of information, and on learning that the human queen Ileosa Arabasti and the ancient wyrm Kazavon had pushed back Karzoug's invasion, the people of Five Kings rested easier. Despite what it meant for Varisia, for them it meant that war was not on their border.
Unfortunately, dwarven complacency would find itself demolished by the coming of second darkness. When a meteor from the dark tapestry struck Kyonin, the resulting impact caused catastrophic earthquakes in the Five Kings. Some entire dwarven holds collapsed on themselves, killing hundreds trapped within them. Largely, the dwarven cities remained strong in the face of the earthquakes, their centuries-old construction designed to resist such tribulations.
The horror faced by the destruction of Kyonin was not lost on the dwarves. Having long since maintained good relations with the elven kingdom and strong trade, the dwarves mourned the catastrophic loss of life and welcomed with open arms refugees that crossed into their domain. What the dwarves were not prepared for, though, was the war that would be brought to them not from the surface world, but up from below.
As a part of their campaign against the surface, the drow who initiated the second darkness marshalled their armies up from the darklands to assail the dwarven settlements. Combined with enslaved creatures of the darklands and conjured demons, the drow forces continue to wage a brutal war hold by hold against the dwarves, who have sealed off entire cities to stave off the drow incursion. Those elves who survived second darkness and fled to the Five Kings have remained to help battle the shame of their dark kin.
Wrapped up in their own conflicts, the dwarves have been unable to rally assistance against the other threats of the surface world. However, due to their isolation and subterranean ways, teh dwarves look likely to weather the coming ice age as their crops and food stores are all grown within their mountain keeps out of the blistering cold.
In the current era, the Kalistocracy of Druma has weathered the emergence of strife in the world as best as they can manage. Selling the services of their mercenaries west to the hegemony of Korvosa and east to the nation of Lastwall has served Druma well. Fear runs through the nation, though, that their amassed wealth will inevitably become a target for the runelord of greed, Karzoug the Claimer. To this end, mercenary services to combat Karzoug have been at largely reduced rates as the battles help serve Druma's self interests.
The coming of second darkness was a significant paradigm shift for Druma. The impact of the meteor in Kyonin caused widespread wildfires that burned across the northeastern Druman plains and blocked off passage for any elven refugees seeking shelter in the Kalistocracy. Furthermore, the tidal surge of water that struck the capital of Kerse following the impact destroyed more than half of the city and claimed thousands of lives. Much of Druma's vast wealth has been funneled into the repair and reconstruction of their coastal cities and towns while they struggle to maintain an even military presence in their involved theaters of war.
Winter's encroachment has made things significantly difficult for Druma, as the poor crop harvests of the last three years and increaingly cold weather has caused difficulties maintaining an open trade with other neighboring nations. The freezing of their primary rivers has dramatically hindered the movement of imported and exported goods, further slowing the nation's economy.