In the center of Eldross swirls a storm of aethyric energy known as the Nexus, stretching down from the violent cloudy skies in a great column to the churning bay below. Around this tempest rests a mysterious crescent shaped island which encases the storm like a cradle, called Luna Isulam. Rising along the length of this island is a ring of forested mountains, growing ever higher from each of the sides of the island until they meet in the center at one single highest peak, known as Summis Mundi, the crest of the world. Connecting these mountains near their peaks are long stone arched bridges, leading to multiple towers that rise far above the sea below. Though the climate is generally mild, the Nexus storm creates a constant spray from the sea, and the winds are constantly blowing from the moving skies above. The land might appear deserted to a new traveler except for the occasional ship or sky-sailer, but deep within mountains are many long and twisting caverns, home to many of the residents of Asharen who do not wish to be exposed too long to the Sunstar.
Far and directly above this land floats a ring of twelve massive rock-like forms that spin slowly about the Nexus, known simply as “the spires”. There are twelve in total, one for each of the elemental forms of power within the land. Slowly they rotate with the power of Tempus, making one full cycle per twelve hours like an impeccable timepiece. From the ground below they are invisible, hidden by the ritual magick that also keeps them stable. On each of the spires are various towers, rising high into the clouds and keeping watch over the upper part of the storm, known as the Maelstrom. Vigilantly, guards inside keep watch for whatever might emerge from the aethyric phenomena, while Magi inside study diligently at arcane magick. It is said that the magical power of the spires in their slow rotation keeps the Nexus stable and allows for safe passage through it. Together the floating spires and the long mawlike island below make up the land known as Asharen, and its people are known as the Ashari.
Cities and Towns
There are three cities of note in Asharen: Aethyrspire, Aeteras Oppidum, and Nethyrdown.
High in the skies on the central spire is a towerlike fortress known as Aethyrspire. This location is a port where floating ships called skysailers may land and take off, and so serves as a launching port for many expeditions into the Maelstrom. It also serves as the secondary capital, where the king resides for part of the year.
Atop the highest peak Summis Mundi, another rising keep surrounds the most ancient city in Eldross, the capital city of Aeteras Oppidum, named for the Incarnate Queen herself. It is said that from its lofty location one can travel quickly to the spires, creating an ideal place of central rule. Deep within the mountain below is a network of great halls, stairwells and tunnels which lead down to an open cavernous port in the base of the mountain. Facing westward to the open sea, this guarded port allows for deep water ships to come and go from Asharen without risking the dangers of the Bay of Tempust.
On Luna Isulam below, on the shores of the Bay of Tempust, sits the quaint little town of Nethyrdown, almost nothing more than a fishing village. This small town is home to many powerful heroes and adventurers of the land, for it is the primary launch point into the part of the Nexus known as the Vortex, where only the hardiest ships with the bravest crews dare enter.
Places of Note
The quiet and sparsely populated lands of Asharen are covered in ancient places and ruins from the time before the Great Upheaval. There are however, a few noteworthy locations.
The Eternal Cloister and the Abbey of Emptiness
Dotting the lands both above and below are many much smaller villages where the stoic and generally quiet people reside. Along the mountains one can see lonely stone monastic structures, home to those who would spend their life in peaceful study of the ancient ways of the world in the pursuit of inner peace and greater spiritual understanding. There are two of these that are the most famous, the Eternal Cloister and the Abbey of Emptiness. It is said that if one sits in these places in total silence long enough, the secrets of the multiverse will slowly become clear to them. Whether the tales are thought to be true, or whether to honor the diligence of those who try, the locals are known to bring food and water to them so that they will not have to leave their places of timeless meditation. It is said that there are those who have sat for years in solitude in the hope of inspiration and insight.
The Wonders of Time
Along the many winding pathways in the valleys between the rising mountains, strange ancient obelisks, arches and standing stones litter the sides of the roads. The most impressive and mysterious of these wonders is by far the Imago Incarnate. Lining the shores of Luna Insulam, seven massive worn statues leer into the heart of the Nexus towards the center of the Bay of Tempust. Legend tells that they are what remains of the Crucible, that wondrous and mysterious creation of Kaanan The Maker two centuries ago.
The Shifting Spire
One of the most fascinating and revered places in Asharen is a floating spire called the shifting spire. Technically the thirteenth spire, this floating stone structure moves around from place to place and often can be found inside the Maelstrom itself. Some say its movements are a defense to keep its location difficult to find. Others believe that the spire moves through time and space itself because it is so closely associated with Tempus magic. In any case, the spire is the home to a great library which is said to contain all of the knowledge of Eldross as well as the secrets that have been discovered from within the Nexus.
Asharen is literally the center of the world, and the destination of many pilgrims, adventurers and traders who come in search of knowledge and riches said to be found beyond the veil of the Nexus. This makes it a central hub for trade and commerce, and therefore all manner of goods and resources from around the world can generally be located. It is also the entry and exit point for the Nexus, and as such many strange and obscure resources from beyond are constantly being found.
The Ashari are masters of transmutation magick, and as such are known for their ability to transmute much of the materials they need from basic materials. There is, however, a resource unique to the island, known as Chrossus Marble. Most of the structures on the island are made from this marble, recognizable by its purple and silver veins against its alabaster colored surface.
Magick and Technology
Though all forms of magic are used, the Ashari see Tempus and its transformation powers as the heart of magick, and the foundation of ritual magick, which they heavily favor and practice. The Alchemancer often uses ritual tools such as a transmutation staff or wand, and will often be seen within a ritual circle, adorned with symbols from all magicks.
The favored weapon amongst the knights is a light longsword called the Ensis, which is both quick and flexible. Metals transformed by Tempus rituals have made such a blade possible, and a similar process is used to make the light metals for skysailers. All styles of fighting and all weapons are respected and appreciated, however.
All along the edges of the bay and the sea surrounding the island ships can be seen. The most well known of these ships are the Asharen Fluyt ships, a unique type of ship that has been crafted to sail into and around the Nexus. Many of these ships, often called skysailers, have been crafted so that they can ascend into the skies and navigate the winds of the Maelstrom. It is not uncommon to see a fluyt ship sail into the bay and lift off into the air, circling the storm and then dock in Aethyrspire. For those without means to travel, there are many such ships to take them wherever they may wish to go for the right price.
The Ashari are a stoic and mysterious people, touched by the Nexus itself. The silvery shimmer of the Aether storms and the purple glowing tint of the Nethyr sea can be seen in the eyes, skin and hair color of the people. They are sometimes referred to by outsiders as the “aethyr fey” due to their strange otherworldly countenance. Many Ashari can also be recognized by a symbol in the center of the forehead called the Ocularum, a symbol that represents their common ability for sight beyond into the realm of the aethyr. This symbol will often take a variation of the shape of a moon or star, generally associated with one of the great houses.
The clothing of the Ashari is often ornate but older in appearance, as their fashion is fairly timeless. Colorful clothing is not a hallmark of the people, and is often simply purple, black or silvery grey. Cowls, hoods, and long robes made from wool are common to protect from the winds. Gems are favored in clothing, and jewelry is popular, such as rings, necklaces and bracelets or earrings, made of metals such as pale gold, silver or platinum. These are often in the shape of the symbols for the realm, such as the stars or Moon.
The Ashari do not see time in the same way as other cultures. All of reality revolves like a wheel in balance around the paradyne that is Tempus. Everything happens in timeless circular cycles. The Ashari believe in observing and watching for signs in the ebb and flow of the Nethyr and Aethyr. Central to the philosophy is that these forces must remain in balance, and subtle changes in their imbalances can reveal secrets.
Transformation is key to the central philosophy of the culture. Things are never truly destroyed, only changed. All of life is eternal, either as a result of the immortal noble blood of the Incarnate, or simply because life will return to the central energy of the omni itself, be renewed, and then return once more in another form back to the world. Everything has its place in the order of things, and exists in one of seven states of matter or energy, starting from the lowest form of matter through to the highest form of energy, passing through these seven stages of change. Since the time of Kannan, this awareness of Apotheosis through transformation has been a central theme to the understanding of life in the multiverse.
The goal of all life is to find the perfect state of timelessness, to be in the exact moment, and in so doing be both in the past and future. This state is where one is in touch with the nothingness of existence, where the Aethyr and Nethyr are in pure balance and harmony, and it is in this state the person has total control over their mind, body and spirit. The Ashari call this state being Anchored. Attaining this state allows for travel through the otherworld, into the Nexus. In combat it allows one to be totally aware of their surroundings and enemies, so much so that it is said they can even fight blind or deaf. This state is thought to be that of the ancient Anchorites of the Incarnate Queen, who were so in touch with eternity that they did not need bodily senses. The Ashari prefer to avoid conflict, but they do see it as necessary sometimes, and when engaged in it will prefer to be in the anchored state. In this way, they have no passion or anger towards their enemies, and only kill if it is absolutely unavoidable.
Etiquette and Society
The Ashari people are generally soft spoken, and like to take their time in social interactions and conversations. Upon greeting one another, Ashari often bow politely in a short bow while moving both hands together to represent the coming together of the two forces, Aethyr and Nethyr. Many topics are debated amongst the people, who love to discuss Paradyne philosophy and interaction. Common courtesy when in conversation is to allow time for a person to finish their thoughts, and thus interrupting is considered disrespectful. It is bad form to abuse this courtesy, and thus speaking for too long without giving another a chance to respond is also considered disrespectful. It is expected that once a point has been made, one should move on and allow for counter thought. Taking time to fully engage in conversation is considered appropriate. Being in a rush shows a disconnection to the timeless nature of the multiverse and looks foolish or hasty, so saying phrases like, “I am short on time” is poor etiquette. It is polite to say “Time moves on” as a way of saying one has to leave. Patience in Asharen is definitely considered a virtue.
The Ashari believe that one should always be aware of their station and place in the social structure. Insulting one of a higher station or another noble is disrespectful. If an insult is made, it is appropriate to apologize, show humility and move on. Social status can be changed through the proper transformative rites and trials. As one evolves, one transforms and learns, and may move up in social station.
Love sometimes leads to marriage, but marriages are often political, to ensure House power. It is also taboo for one of a noble house to marry outside the noble blood with a mortal, and the unusual union produces a bastard child who may not take the noble’s house name.
The language of Chrossian was adopted long ago as the common tongue and is still spoken in all lands across Eldross. The land can be overwhelmed with the sounds of the winds and storms from the vortex and the Maelstrom, and therefore a form of sign language is often used to communicate. Another non-verbal form of communication is sometimes used by the nobility, the quickspeaks. These are bowls that contain a shining mercurial fluid called quickwater. This substance forms a conduit for telepathic communication and is used to transmute thoughts from one bowl to another.
Architecture and Art
Common folk dwell in stone home shelters with thatched roofs, which can be seen dotted across the mountains and overlooking cliffs on the sea. The nobility live in castles, made of strong stone and often containing Chrossus Marble. Towers in the floating islands above rise up into the clouds, making it hard to tell where the natural stone ends and the towers begin. It is this visual effect that is the reason these locations came to be known as the spires.
Statues and relief in the masonry on the buildings is the most common form of art, often an expression of the temporal nature of existence to the Ashari. Though their geometric qualities are decorative, their primary design is intended as symbolism and metaphysical connection to the supernal energies of the multiverse. Common symbolic themes are alchemagical in their forms, representing the seven stages of the transformative process. Along with these forms are often seen the celestial motifs of sun, moon and stars.
Theatre and puppetry, often silent in its discourse, is perhaps the most popular form of entertainment. The appreciation of this art form rose from a practice common to the Ashari Magi known as spectral theatre. In this mystical form of metaphysical theatre, viewers are able to look backwards and forwards through time and witness events which have occurred, or will occur at some point on one of many possible timelines. The most powerful forms are even able to see into other worlds, a phenomena that was not fully understood or appreciated until after the opening of the Nexus.
Food and Diet
Bread, vegetables, fruits and nuts are common foods in Asharen, and a reasonable population of sheep is maintained from which to harvest wool, mutton and milk. The main source of sustenance in Asharen comes from the sea. This includes fish, calamari, octopus, oysters, lobster and anything else that can be fished from the sea. Being a central location for trade and foreigners, there are always a great deal of exotic specialties from other cultures to enjoy. Feasts at holidays and special occasions always contain these standard foods, plus a variety of unique delicacies:
Aether Kraken – a rare and special creature only found in the Nethyr sea. Only the bravest of seafarers beyond the Nexus are able to capture it, and only served by the wealthy.
Glowort – In the Asharen mountains grows a special plant called Glowort, which comes out in the moonlight and glows in the dark. It is often mixed with Aeteras breath to make Glowort salad.
Nethyrshrooms – These rare mushrooms grow deep in the caves of the Asharen mountains, and are known to create temporal hallucinations.
Aetera’s Breath – a tall wild grass growing in the Spires, and is used to make a milky green drink called Aeteras Milk.
Mooncakes – a baked good made from a variety of local spices and shaped into crescent moons, mainly used for serving to tourists and guests.
Kronnus Wine – a wine made from rare grapes called Kronnus Grapes, unusually purple and found growing in the ruins of the colosseum. The wine’s inebriation has a strange temporal shift effect which is said to allow one to see into the future or the past. The Ashari do not seem to be affected, but visitors be warned.
Professions and Skills
All skills and professions are respected, as it is considered that all duties have a role in society. Every occupation is respected for its part in the great wheel. Most respected are Knights, Alchemancers, librarians, and teachers. Also greatly respected is the mysterious art of Fluyte ship construction.
Education is important, and literacy is common. General knowledge of all skills is encouraged, and almost everyone learns a basic weapon, some social interaction, and basic exploration skills. Many learn the basics of Tempus magic, and of those some go on to become expert practitioners of magick, especially the ritual arts. There is one guiding principle used in teaching, and it is that each must learn a skill only when the time is right. The Ashari will make sure that enough time is taken to learn a skill before moving on to another.
Most commoners are educated by their parents, and nobles have tutors. Any who can afford it may attend formal schools. Higher learning is taught at the formal academy on the Silver Spire, and the most gifted are sent to learn at the library on the Shifting Spire under the guardianship of House Qkrendros. The three knightly orders help train people in basic combat skills, and seek out those skilled in the martial arts to join their ranks.
The changing of the seasons is a time of celebration of the transformation of the paradynes from one to another, in a festival that honors each respective paradyne. Between each of the seasons is a festival named for the coming season, from Soulfall to Moonsleep, then to Lifespring, then Sundance. Two of these festivals are especially important, however, as these are the two which change the rulership in the Kingdom: the Festival of Moonsleep and the Festival of Sundance. There is a great ceremony for each as the Court in power turns over its final authority to the other Court.
Asharen has an unusual ruling structure, with two married co-rulers working together in what is called a Diarchy; King Melandrach Aeteras and Queen Aelua Nayana Aeteras. Instead of a Monarchy where the King rules all of the time, for half the year, from Winter through Spring, the Moon Queen is considered in charge and is the final authority on all political matters. During this time of the year, the royal family resides in the original capitol, Aeteras Oppidum. In the Summer through Fall, the family moves to Aethyrspire, and final authority shifts to the Star King. Both have their own trusted advisors, who stay back in the opposite city when power shifts, and maintain order in the other capitol, and regular communication through the quickspeaks. This form of government was established several years after the first King and Queen went missing, and was a compromise to prevent Chrossus from splitting into two separate nations.
The Diarchy almost never rules with a heavy hand, allowing the people to follow their own will so long as they observe the laws and customs of the land. Most decisions have to do with how to treat travellers and outsiders, as the Ashari have never really accepted the separation of the world into many nations. They consider instead that the Ashari are the descendants of the original rulers of Eldross, and that in time this division will be healed. Therefore, they have a tendency to view foreigners as their “paradyne subjects”, or those who have been so overly influenced by another culture’s philosophies that they lack a holistic world view. Though the Ashari royal family has very little political power over the other cultures, they take full advantage of their power over travellers and pilgrims know who must cooperate if they wish to safely enter the Nexus.
The desire to travel into the Nexus from people all across Eldross is what truly gives Asharen its power over the world. It is only the Ashari guides who understand how to safely navigate the tempest and the Maelstrom, as well as providing safe launch points for both ships and skysailers. Travellers coming into one of the ports of Asharen must pay a tax for entering the land, and any goods they bring in and out are subject to tariffs, generating a great deal of income for the kingdom.
Travellers and pilgrims are expected to follow the local laws. Theft and destruction of another’s property is illegal. Attacking anyone is highly looked down upon, and all forms of physical and magical assault are illegal and subject to heavy fines, payment or service to the victim, or in extreme cases banishment. There are forms of combat where grievances can be addressed through dueling, but this must be approved by an Ashari official. Murder is not tolerated; however, if a grievance is offensive enough it is possible for the aggreived party to obtain an assassination permit, in which case death of the offender is not considered murder. In cases where guilt or innocence is in question, an old form of trial from the tradition of Kannan and the Crucible may be employed. A suspect can be sent in the Nexus to perform acts of great heroism to prove their worthiness. If they return, they have purged their lower state and been transformed; if not, they suffer whatever fate is intended by the Nexus.
Laws of the land, as well as peace in the realm, are generally enforced by the royal order of knights, The Knights of Aetera. These knights, as well as wandering anchorite knights, often aid those in need. The King and Queen provide the courts, who issue judgement over those of noble houses. Otherwise, Knights of Aetera can issue punishments and force improvised trials over the commoners and mortals. All in all, legal enforcement is rare, as Asharen is mostly a peaceful place and its inhabitants get along fairly well. This peaceful attitude environment is partly due to two other reasons. The first is the knowledge that the nobility has possession of the quickspeaks, the most powerful of which are known to be able to scry upon those who might break laws. The second reason is more pragmatic, for if inhabitants have any real dispute, they can simply book passage into the Nexus and enter a place where no laws are in effect.
Organizations and Orders
Order of Royal Alchemancers
In the early days of the arcane arts, those entrusted to understand and practice the arts of magick and its secrets were known as the Magi of Chrossus. As magick and its use evolved, so did its practitioners, now known Alchemancers. Over time the Magi evolved into the Order of Royal Alchemancers, who have a great deal of power in Asharen and oversee the study and use of magick in the realm. Often still called Magi, these individuals are found as advisors in the King’s court as well as every noble house in Asharen. They act as teachers and guides, and consult in matters of law when magick use is involved. The head of the order and advisor to the King and Queen is Grand Master Alchemancer Jarliste Qkrendros, a wise old Ashari Magi whose age is unknown.
The Knightly Orders
Knightly orders are an ancient tradition which to this day still form the main military force of the land. The head of each order is called the Knight Champion, and those below are Knights, followed by Esquires and Squires who are in training. There are three knightly orders in the land:
The Moon Guard- the Queen’s royal guard. They bear the silver sigil of the crescent moon upon a purple field. Their Knight Champion is Ser AIlyanna Qketraris.
The Star Guard- the King’s royal guard. They bear a ring of four pointed silver stars upon a purple field. Their Knight Champion is Ser Kindroth Lhorisia.
Knights of Aeteros- pledged to the land itself, these knights roam independently in the many strange pathways found throughout arteros and protect the from what might emerge from the gateways or even the Nexus. The oldest and highest in the order are sometimes called Anchorites for their old ways and adherence to the principle of anchoring. It is said that they follow the ancient ways of the Incarnate Queen and are that induction into their order requires many secret trials.
Living in the Abbey of Emptiness is a mysterious and ancient group who are said to follow a philosophy aligned with the nothingness of the multiverse. They are said to own no possessions and never marry. Through their study of nothingness, they believe they have come to hold the true knowledge of the universe, and are sometimes consulted when exceptionally bizarre phenomena affect the realm. For the most part, citizens respect but avoid them. They are rarely seen leaving the Abbey.
The Noble Houses
The Royal House; direct lineage from Elonia and Rohen Aeteras. This was once House Draxos, but the name was changed long ago in honor of the Incarnate Queen.
This House tends the library and is known for training and producing great Alchemancers.
This House guards the gateways and is the primary house for training the Knights of Aeteras.
The House is mainly in charge of executive enforcement matters and local justice.
The House is primarily in charge of the navy and fluyt ships. They manage expeditions and trips into the Nexus.
This House is in charge of the skysailers and manages flights into the Maelstrom.
The legend of Kannan and his trials that led to the opening of the Nexus changed the world in many ways, the most drastic of which impacted the island continent of Chrossus, in an immediate and dramatic way. At this event over 200 years ago, now called the Great Upheaval, the Nexus opened like a hole in the world, tearing the colosseum and the land beneath it apart, sending shattered pieces flying in all directions. Some of these pieces flew far into the surrounding sea; some landed in the nearby hills, and some flew skyward into the upper part of the stormy Nexus. These latter stones strangely gathered more debris over time and became what are now known as the Spires.
At the moment of appearance of the Nexus, the King and Queen vanished, and with them the leadership of Eldross. A council of advisors was called immediately after to determine the most prudent course of action, but quickly turned into a disaster crisis rally. The tempest created from the Nexus was slowly growing; at first the storm was only in the center at the colosseum, but slowly it grew, sending stone and earth into the air. As it grew in intensity it began to swirl and expand. It seemed to pull power from the four poles at the edge of the world, drawing the energy of the paradynes into it and ripping at the surrounding continents of the world. The sea began to flood onto the shore and it seemed as if the whole island would sink. Many fled the island. Some went to the mountains for safety. Many were pulled into the storm. A great many mortals died that day, and even immortals met their permanent end at the massive power of the Nethyric forces. Eventually the storm encircled the entire continent. Nothing of Chrossus could be seen; for all intents and purposes, Chrossus and it’s people were buried in the Nexus and lost to time.
In the years that followed, any travellers who sought out the Kingdom seat could find nothing but a great Maelstrom. Many assumed that the people of Chrossus were lost forever, or at the very least unreachable. When the skysailers of Vendaeros finally made their way to the storm, their hopes were further shattered at what came out of the Nexus itself, for many mortals had been transformed, mutated and transformed into horrible maddened creatures. Seeing their bodies void of spiritual energy they named them Hollows, and even today these creatures still appear unexpectedly, their minds lost in time and fighting enemies unseen.
Inside the storm, the island of Chrossus was almost entirely destroyed, leaving only an outer crescent moon shaped ring. Parts of the inner land were actually pushed outward and upward to form mountains, giving some refuge to the survivors. People found shelter in several remaining large structures, many of which are now monasteries. Cover from the winds were the least of their worries, for the storm seemed to have the power to disrupt temporal perception, leaving many to hallucinate. Over time, the remaining Chrossians began to adapt to the strange effects of the storm. They became sensitive to the flows of the Aethyr and the Nethyr, detecting subtle differences in the two, and their skin and hair began to change in response.
One day a rare child was born from two Chrossian nobles. The child bore the symbol of the crescent moon upon his forehead. Named Asharen of House Qkrendos, he would become the teacher that brought the true knowledge of control of the Nexus to the land. Through his abilities and teachings, he helped the Magi understand how to tame and control the great Maelstrom and keep it in check. With his insight and knowledge, they eventually were able to stabilize the floating stones in the storm, sending them into a sort of orbit and creating the Spires.
The people were different, forever changed. They renamed their new land in honor of their great teacher, calling it Asharen and themselves the Ashari. In time, the storm was reduced to a manageable size in the center of the crescent land now called Luna Insulam. To the rest of the world, Chrossus just reappeared from the Nexus after centuries of being lost, its people returned and changed. With aethyric sight, the Ashari scryed upon the lands of Eldross and they saw the world at war. With their fluyt ships they sailed outward to the lands from which they had so long been separated.
One by one they met with the heads of the rulers from each of the cultures of the world. They marvelled at the changes to each of the people, both physical and philosophical. The Paradyns had clearly had such influence on each that Asharen could not deny that the time for one central authority was passed. The Ashari had seen and experienced the multiverse beyond Eldross, and knew many and varied ways. It was declared that no longer would House Aeteras rule all the land, but that all nine nations would be recognized under a new declaration.