Southwest of Velkaria and beyond the dark and frozen Blackwood Forest lies the strange and mystical land of Tahlea. As one enters its borders, it appears as nothing but an endless frozen tundra where the living can barely survive. Frozen rain and swirling snow storms appear from nowhere, catching the unaware traveler by surprise. Strange creatures, seemingly made of ice and snow, roam the lands like nomads preying upon the unprepared. Yet if one travels far enough, they may discover a silvery river that feeds a lush valley of verdant plains teaming with life. At the edge of the valley is a deep and ancient forest, with a canopy so thick that its inhabitants below live in eternal night. At the heart of this dark forest is a mysterious settlement that never sees the sun- the City of Nightshade. It is a place of great power with many frivolities that serve only as a mask for the true mysteries that hide within. The aloof inhabitants of this city draw power from both nature and shadow. And yet they are far from antisocial. Their keen minds and litigious ways have earned them two positions of renown and power in Eldross. First, they serve as the barristers and contract negotiators of the world. Second, they are the creators and bankers of the world’s primary currency, known as the Tahle’.
Cities and Towns
The Hidden City of Nymf
Nymf is a sprawling oasis amidst an icy world, hidden by countless mirages where the union of Umbra and Wylde thrives in icy wastes. The malefic beings nearby are constantly trying to breach it so they may glutton themselves on the energies that concentrate there. None may travel there who have not already been before. To gain an audience with someone from Nymf you must first be introduced by one who knows them. To gain entrance to the city of Nymf you must be guided by one who has been there.
The City of Nightshade is found in the only deep woods located in all of Tahlea, the Blackheart Forest. The growth is so thick that the city lives in eternal night, never seeing the sun. The city is named for a legendary founder who raised it from a swamp and turned it into a thriving living city of culture, games, and delight. The city of Nightshade is one of customs and pleasantries. It is one of the wealthiest cities in all of Eldross and home to the Bank of Nen – the most secure and vast vault in all of Eldross. It is a city that never sleeps, is home to every temptation, and one in which not wearing a smile is a cry for help from the revelers to whisk you up into a night of merrymaking and delight… but to those who call Nightshade home, they know that in nature, a bright toothy grin is a sign of aggression, and a warning promising violence if you don’t watch your step.
It is said that following the Great Upheaval, the founder (whose name is lost to legend) held a celebration for all the powers of the Umbral Wylde and not a single of the powers of the Umbra or the Wylde dared to reject the invitation. The party was so wild and the wine flowed so freely, that when a cycle of the moon had passed a city had risen in the place, built by the drunken dares of those who commanded the trees and animals with magics more powerful than they had any right to wield. Each of them awoke hung over, greatly weaker for the excursion, and walked away from the city leaving its founder now in possession of a piece of each of their power, as well as a vial of their blood, and an oath from their lips.
Places of Note
A location in the ice desert where obelisks stick out from the surface of the snow. There are strange writings on them, and even stranger whispers if you get too close. Many wonder what mysteries are buried beneath. Attempts to excavate it have proven impossible as any work to uncover it can only go so deep before the snowstorms bury it once again.
The Bank of Nen
The most secure vault in all of Eldross. It is found in the Garden of Ents – a place where the trees walk and guard against any who try to enter without welcome. Such trespassers find out how fatal it can be to ignore social niceties. At the center of the garden is a black pool known as the Maevyn’s Promise, the first waters of the swamp that Nightshade’s founder called home. The water itself is horrifically poisonous, and is the entrance to the Bank of Nen. To reach it one must dive into the pool and swim down to the bottom of its black depths. It is said to be miles deep. At its bottom, you will find the vault door – where the real danger begins.
The Sylvan River
This river is enormous and deep. It runs through the land, fracturing into a myriad of smaller rivers that bring verdant life to the plains. It is the source of all life for Tahlea.
A pool of water that is poisonous to all life and guards the entrance to the Bank of Nen. It is the strongest poison known to Eldross, and its waters are used by the assassins of Tahlea. It is said dipping a needle in it once will give one a means to kill an army, one prick at a time.
Not surprisingly, the real resource of the Tahlean is its currency, universally recognized across the world. Its value is backed by years of both trust and fear concerning the consequences of what refusing to accept the Tahlean contract to maintain the world’s currency will bring. It is this currency, among many others and countless treasures that are stored in the Bank of Nen.
While the Tahle’ is accepted everywhere in Eldross, and in Tahlea every currency on Eldross is accepted, Tahlea’s internal currency is the Favor. While all significant exchanges in Tahlea are done by contract in the presence of an Arbiter, it would be unreasonable to use such a system for everyday transactions. The Favor system started with a minor contract scribbled on a napkin and witnessed by a few people standing around that exchanged an unspecified minor favor in the future in exchange for a meal now. These unofficial minor scribbled contracts became so common that House Faeryn-Shol went around and purchased all of the contracts and then reissued them as an official currency.
Where other currencies are backed by a commodity such as precious metals or jewels, this currency is backed by promises of services rendered at a later date. As such, the value became static and stable. While the rarity of the Tahle’ may change from year to year, a day’s labor will only ever be a day’s labor and grabbing a drink for someone from their stores will only ever be just that. A weighted value was attributed to Favors to describe the potency of the favor desired. While getting a glass of water is a simple task in the city and therefore only would cost One Favor, getting that same glass of water in the desert would be a huge task involving many people and many services along the way and thus costing many Favors. And so, a currency based on how hard something is to procure rather than the fluctuating value of a material item was born.
Poisons and Herbs
Tahlea is filled with many types of herbs and poisons, which can produce all sorts of effects from sleep to death or worse. There are far too many to name or number. Some say the true resource of Tahlea is their assassins, the most deadly of poison in Eldross. An example is Deadly Nightshade. A mysterious herb that can be found growing near Maevyn’s Promise, it can be used to make many concoctions depending upon its dosage and the skill of the crafter. These can produce effects ranging from sleep to death.
The Blackheart forest trees provide a hard flora called Frostwood, and growing on those trees can be found many types of strange lichen.
Found in locations deep within the snow of the tundra wastes, this curious form of ice is said to give life to those who freeze within it, returning them as creatures of pure Ice, doomed to roam the snows forever. It has been found to contain properties that can be used for powerful magic.
Legend says that Umbral Earth and Wyld Water combined to make this curious substance. It is a thick black mud like liquid, which seems to act like a poison to some and an intoxicant to others. It is primarily found in and around Maevyn’s Promise.
Magick and Technology
Common to Tahlea is Malefimancy, the magic of misdirection and deception. It is used to make optimal deals, especially against unwary outsiders who are not clever enough to spot a one sided deal. The Tahleans are able to buy most anything they need outside their borders with the Tahle’, so they really don’t bother producing much of anything technological in nature (though they do see such toys as quite the spectacle). They are far too busy making deals and having a good time to bother making something they can just buy, and that probably will end up breaking anyway.
Tahleans make a special and strange type of ship which acts as both a sea vessel and an airship. They look almost like multi-winged living monsters, each said to be unique in design. They are made mainly of the trees around Nightshade, which are said to be obtainable only through a contract with an Ent, making them somewhat rare. Their construction is a secret guarded by the few living Tahlean shipwrights.
Tahleans prefer fast and light blades, often in pairs. They are not fond of shields or long bulky weapons. The most famous weapon in Tahlea is in fact a blade known as The Gentleman’s Cane. This dueling sword is said to have so many poisons, venoms, and toxins woven into its very metal that no creature, Incarna or man, can survive being cut by it.
There are two groups of people in the lands of Tahlea: the Ice Nomads who wander the frozen desert tundra, and the Forest folk, who live amongst the lush green plains and within the forested city of Nightshade.
The Nomads are mainly free mortals who wisely choose to not involve themselves in the affairs and double deals of the Forest folk. They are very dour in comparison to the silly and fun-loving people of the plains and forests. The one Incarana family is House Issian, located in the city of Nymf. They can survive extreme cold and it is rumored that they can see through illusions.
The Forest folk are very welcoming, kind, and full of social graces, but with rules that are not to be broken. Learning the truth beneath the smile can be very jarring. They are for the most part Incarna, who have an unusual ability to shake off intoxicants, and are resistant to all but the most severe of poisons. They are ruled by the Incarana House Faeryn-Shol, though it is more like careful manipulation than rulership. The few mortals that live amongst the Forest folk are usually bound by some form of contract, they were either tricked into, or made with the hopes of returning from death one day as Risen.
The Risen mortals in the lands are unusual indeed. They are either beings who have been reborn from the elemental ice, or they have fulfilled a contract to an Incarna house and now have been brought back. Many of the latter find that their immortality has come with unexpected strings attached. And sometimes, when a mortal breaks a Rising contract, they have only served to set the condition to be brought back as something truly horrific. What follows is a description of the many known forms.
For those mortals who have managed to fulfill their contractual obligations to the House of an Incarana, immortality in the form of a ghost is the result. Very often, the ghost must go on serving if the contract was cleverly written, or sometimes a new contract will be negotiated.
There is a common occurrence in Tahlean culture; from time to time people will simply go missing. Usually this is the result of a bad deal or assassination, and it is considered taboo to speak of those who have disappeared in such a fashion until (or unless) they return. There is however a darker side to this. There are those who try to make deals with creatures in the shadows that appeared in the world after Kannan opened the Nexus at the center of the world. There is a faction who made contracts with these creatures in attempts to recapture their lost immortality. In the exchange they were granted immortality – as their flesh slowly rotted away and eventually was left behind altogether. The resultant Wraiths gained an abominable form of immortality that now haunts the Tahleans. Those who sign the contract slowly begin to wither and rot. They are seen in various stages of decay from time in the forests and desert wastes at night but avoid society once the rotting starts to set in. Eventually, circumstances lead them to give up all pretense and leave their bodies behind altogether. These Wraiths have no corporeal body left tied to their spirits, and this has left them hungry and thirsty to an unreasonable degree; their jealousy of those who still have bodies to call their own can override all good sense. They avoid The Stones where the Obelisks protrude from the ground with indecipherable writing on them. As such, most houses in Tahlean culture have these writings inscribed on door frames and walls… though it is said this leads to its own problems which Tahleans don’t speak of. The worst of this taboo is that it is believed that the most powerful houses have access to these contracts and keep these Wraiths as servants bound to the wills of the house. Discovering this to be true would be a scandal enough to topple even the greatest houses.
Though the mortals of Tahlea can be made to rise with magic like others in Eldross, there are many more who have Risen only by malefic events. They are the vengeful dead, reborn of betrayal and that seek to kill and possess any who walk alone in the forests.
These Risen are Tahleans who were captured by Velkaria during the war and experimented on. They are stuck between life and death and must drain the life of others to persist. Those victims left in their wake are turned into a frail husk as if every bit of tissue were made of dead fall leaves.
A particular terror to the nomadic tribes, these monsters create mirages of a lush oasis to lure in victims. So real is the illusion that entire caravans will stop to gather water only to realize as they are choking to death after several generous helpings that they have been swallowing poison the whole time.
It’s bad luck to wear red on your head lest you be mistaken by the Crimsoned as volunteering for joining their ranks. The Crimsoned are monsters who engage in blood rituals. They can always be spotted by the matted dried blood in their hair and their smiles that are carved into their faces.
These Risen look like normal people and there is no way of telling them from anyone else at first. It is only when making a contract with them that they can be truly discovered. There is always a clause that involves circumstance that will result in the death of a member of the family. This is usually worded very vaguely and easily misconstrued at first. If you become trapped in a contract with them, the contract must be fulfilled. The only way out of this contract is to offer a newborn as payment for the life you wish to be spared. In this way, their ranks grow.
The Incarna have long pointed ears as well as horns that are sometimes spiraling and ram-like, and other times long, pointed, and gazelle-like. They have icy white skin with swirling dark silvery lines that either look like veins or surreal shifting lines, given the unsettling appearance of constantly moving. When they have wings, they are generally bat-like in appearance, though some have been known to have feathers that are black, sometimes with shimmering dark rainbow colors. They have long pointed ears and deep dark eyes, often with no white visible.
Those mortals risen from the Elemental ice appear exactly as if they were carved from the ice itself. Their skin looks like ice, and their bodies stiff and frozen. Those risen in the forest or plains look entirely different; they are essentially spirits of one form or another, partially manifested in physical form but also eerily ghostly. Some might confuse them with undead, however they are creatures not of Necromancy but of Malefimancy, and thus are essentially spirits bound to the realm in semi corporeal form. Amongst them are the truly malefic spirits who have either broken a contract or been betrayed in some way, and thus wander the realm in a maddened state.
The Nomads are regular mortals who dress in warm white or grayish cloth, with furs and scarves. Their dress is practical and meant to survive the coldest of conditions. They cover as much of their bodies as possible when outdoors, which is most of the time. On the rare occasions they have indoor festivals, they will wear slightly more tailored clothing, usually long surcoats or dresses.
The people of Nightshade dress in fine clothes and garments and flowing scarves made of silks, satins, and soft materials. Women dress in silks and flowy garments that are designed to come across as tempting and alluring. The men usually wear pants and coats. Both will sometimes mix into their outfits eclectic clothing from other cultures for just fun, such as flowy pants with a suit coat and top hat. The whole of their dress has a carnival-meets-ballroom aesthetic. When a celebration is on, the bigger the event the more festive the garb and the more numerous the scarves and colors.
“Your life is your word; this is one thing all people of Tahlea agree on. If your word is good, your life is valuable. If your word is broken, your life is forfeit. A contract made must be honored. Death is not an excuse for not honoring a contract. Your word, once given, is law. You need no other law than this. Never forget what we have fallen from, or we will never again know what it is to fly. Good and evil are words used by people to justify things. Promises and power are what count. Breaking an oath is ‘evil’. Betraying a contract is ‘evil’. Honoring and keeping these is good. If someone tricked you into a contract, then they’re smarter than you and you owe it to them to fulfill it as they are your better and you have been bested.”
-The Lord of Nightshade
The binding word and the written contract define neatly the driving philosophy of the Tahlean people. Those with the strongest wills are able to keep to their word no matter what the cost. Those with the ability to cleverly navigate the details of an agreement will gain the most from it. Death is a tool, like everything else. Those who break a contract will probably die. Those who stand in the way of a contract should die. Sometimes for no reason, people die. It’s a morbid aspect of this world that the Tahleans have had to learn to embrace with a smile. Tahleans determination to keep their word means that they often never need contracts between themselves; other cultures seem to have a harder time keeping up with such things, and therefore the primary use of contracts is to keep foreigners honest.
The truth is though, that in their dreams all Tahleans remember a time when they were beyond death’s embrace. Beneath the smiles and frowns, the people of Tahlea believe they are the children of a great power lost in ancient times. It was a power that sustained them and that kept them from knowing death. Those who are able to return from death are considered to be closer in lineage to their roots in a time before. Every Tahlean secretly longs for that world where death was but an abstract concept. Both the Ice Nomads and the Forest folk believe in this mythical “before time” in which they never knew death or suffering. While one seeks to return there through delving into mysteries and living stoically, the other tries to recreate it while amassing the power and influence needed from others to one day return all of Eldross to the paradise that was lost.
Etiquette and Society
Political conflict is, well…fun! It is the highest form of sport and the greatest of intrigue. Open military conflict is a sign of weakness. Why waste armies when an assassin can do more in one night with a glass of wine?
The lower houses are constantly trying to elevate themselves to the level of the great houses. The great houses are vying for dominance. The unhoused are constantly fighting for sponsorship into one of the lower houses. This leads to a great many deals and contracts, along with social occasions for making them. Being under contract to someone can create a form of indentured servitude if one party is not careful in their contractual wording. Moreover, this is a common outcome of failing to deliver on a contract to avoid death.
In all great houses, the leader of a great house is known by a title rather than a name. Their true name is only ever known to those in the family, which is why most Tahleans use monikers when introducing themselves.
There are countless cults and cabals among the Tahlean people that rally around causes and ideals. For every group someone belongs to publically, there are likely three secret societies they belong to privately. It is expected that everyone is both an upstanding citizen, a rebel, and a terrorist each in turn at different points in their lives. Even still, the Houses never allow these outsiders to gain traction.
Love never factors into the contractual arrangements that are marriage among the Tahleans. Because of this, neither love nor sex have to have any place in marriage among the Tahlean culture. What is gained and what houses are joined are all that matters. As such, there is no expectation of sexual or amorous fidelity – but the warning must be observed that showing any vulnerability such as love will always be used against you. As such, the Tahlean culture is very hedonistic and very against attachments such as love or affection. Divorce is seen as a breach of contract. It is much more socially acceptable to have your spouse killed than to attempt to dissolve a marital contract. That said, as fidelity either in the heart or the bedroom is not part of a Tahlean marriage, there is little call for these extremes. As a wedding is a contract for life, these are taken seriously and are always a huge celebration in the Tahlean culture.
The birth of a child is a cause to get very drunk. So much so that sometimes the infant is lost track of for a day or so. The couple who has had a child is seen to have entered into a contract with the new life they have brought into the world to provide for, protect, and instruct. A neglectful family can actually be brought to the Arbiters for breach of contract and have a portion of their wealth stripped from them to allow the wronged offspring to make their own way in the world in spite of them.
Depending on the stature of the family they come from, the burial ceremony can range from a simple somber event to one which shuts down the city for a day and is remembered for generations. All Tahleans who pass on without returning from death’s shore though are commemorated in mausoleums with statues in their likeness standing vigil. Even those who died despised get this treatment, though those who were true villains are given such burials so that every citizen may have the chance to deface the statue and grave site as a final act of spiteful vengeance. To find a Tahlean grave that is in a state of disrepair is to find a Tahlean who died in dishonor and disgrace, for even the lowliest Tahlean who died in good standing is given a grave to remember them. It’s worth noting that the care given to the graves of the dead greatly exceeds the amount of attention given to the homes of the living.
Ice Nomads speak plainly and directly, though rarely say what they truly mean. The Forest folk are talkative and capricious, using very elegant and eloquent language that is fond of metaphor and poetry. Chrossian is the common tongue, though Tahlean (a bright and melodic language) is often spoken, and less often, “Dark Tahlean” – an entire complex and quite beautiful sounding language that is purely profanity. It is as impossible to sound impolite in this language as it is to say something inoffensive.
There are three scripts used amongst the Tahlean people: The first is the Tahlean language that has a nomadic and an urban variant. The second is a runic language based on using the runes found in ruins. While the actual meanings of these runes are anybody’s guess, some have been shown to have effects on Wraiths and creatures and have unique outcomes when placed on various items and structures. As such, a language has sprung up around them.
“Good to see you in good health” or just “Good health” are the standard greetings. These are used as greeting and farewell and are referenced to the taboos of the culture. Removing one’s hat and giving a sweeping bow is a gesture of respect among the Forest folk, while touching the heart then the forehead is a gesture of respect among the Nomadic Tahleans. Formal titles are Master/Mistress, Lord/Lady, Sir/Madam.
Faux Pas and Gestures
A large silent smile that lets someone talk to exhaustion is considered … “rude”. To stay silent in a conversation when the other expects a response is even ruder. This implies that the absurdity of what someone is saying has rendered you speechless.
Acting above your station is a huge faux pas (though acting below your station or “slumming it” is normal – but not spoken about).
Any hand gesture used as a sign of approval or congratulations in another culture is a mocking gesture among the Tahlean. If a Tahlean gives you a thumbs up, you should be offended … and probably run.
“There is a saying that real surprise is never met with a smile” As such, seeing a Tahlean frowning with a furrowed brow means they have been caught by surprise – and it is a rare sight indeed.
Architecture and Art
There are many forms of art and architecture, though most are borrowed or taken as payment for debts from other cultures. The Tahleans believe that art gives clues to the way back to paradise and the time before. Eclectic most aptly describes any unified style one might be seeking. The one art form all Tahleans love is Theatre. Theater is life. And life itself is nothing but a farce of a play. That’s all reality is anyway… children making a play.
The Forest folk live in cities that seem to lack planning. In a society where someone can be a major player one week and a pauper the next, the result is an ephemeral nature to their domiciles and places of business. Because of this, with the exception of the most important buildings, all the other structures lack any sort of geometric uniformity. These “buildings”, often stacked one upon the other as wealth grows, and wind up rented out or abandoned as families fall. The larger houses are actually the acquisition of groups of houses stacked together. The exception to this is the great houses which look more like carnival haunted houses than mansions – and likely contain as many surprises and hidden passages. The common building material is wood. This makes their houses greatly susceptible to both fire and rot as the wood is rarely treated first for weather. It is not uncommon to see mushrooms sprouting from the outer walls of these buildings – but the Tahleans seem not to mind as they don’t view anything in this world to be permanent – not even themselves.
The Nomadic Tahleans live in tents, but this likely doesn’t give the correct mental picture. Some of these moving cities can span miles when set up with the largest tents the size of small castles. Always using colored canvas depicting the family it belongs to, these tents can contain luxury and even themselves have hidden flaps and secreted away rooms. The most important of these often have passages and rooms without roofs, open to the sky to view in many places, and can make up an almost mazework of tarps and canvas. The dominant building material is skins, canvas, and a type of mesh tarping that allows the wind to blow through without letting in snow. This mesh is one of their own design. The only permanent structure for the Nomadic Tahleans is that of House Issian located in the city of Nymf. This structure is a massive ice structure of truly awesome scale that appears like glasswork, blown smooth by the constant assault of the windy tundra snow. This House Issian structure is a true marvel of frosted ice that looks more like a sprawling temple than a mansion.
Food and Diet
Feasting is the rule of the Tahleans. For the Nomads, this rule is in thankfulness for another day, while for the Forest folk, this is because tonight may be the final night! Variety is the spice of life, and as such, the Tahlean pallett is the most diverse melting pot in all of Eldross. They trade for many foods and will eat most anything. No natural food is poisonous to Tahleans. It requires being intentionally processed into a poison in order to be poisonous to a Tahlean (the only exception is the water from the pool of Maevyn’s Promise). They do, however, have some well known foods of their own. The streets of the cities in Tahlea are like carnivals and their food vendors are everywhere. There are also great feasts in the halls of the rich and powerful nightly with one ball or another every week’s end.
These dried mushrooms are extinct and once the last is used they are gone forever. These dried mushrooms put one who eats them into a state of transcendental enlightenment. It is said that nothing, neither past nor future nor secrets of the present, is hidden from one who takes this voyage; though some secrets glimpsed cannot be spoken aloud afterwards or ever relayed to another living soul.
If there is one thing Tahlea is known for it is its variety of wines and intoxicating beverages. The potency of these drinks ranges from light and pleasant to forgetting the last month of your life. In fact, many Tahlean wines are treated as intoxicants and poisons in other cultures. The most sought after wine is Nightshade Wine. It is said that hidden away somewhere are ancient casks containing a vintage wine that dates from the city’s founding. The wine is said to have a euphoric and hallucinatory effect.
Professions and Skills
The most respected professions in Tahlean culture are lawyers (arbiters), assassins and merchants. Arbiters are the most respected profession, as without them Tahlean culture would unravel within a week. A Tahlean Arbiter is often consulted first for anything beyond basic agreements. After them, the assassin’s guilds are what enforce the Arbiters’ will and make the contracts iron-clad. Lastly is the merchant class for without them, there would be no wealth to speak of. Amongst the merchant class, the Apothecary is perhaps the most respected. Servants are least respected. They have failed to honor a contract, or were not clever enough to make a good deal. The simpleminded who are easy to trick are treated as barely better than a slave class. If someone proves to be particularly gullible it is not uncommon to have them “sent to learn a trade”, which is a very polite way of saying ‘sold into servitude and stripped of family name’.
The quality of education varies wildly based on status and income, and can swing dizzily between the best schools in Eldross and a toothless old mentor who screams at squirrels. All Tahleans who are not indentured servants are expected to complete a core curriculum that includes history of their culture, history of other cultures, languages, and negotiating contracts. Beyond that, finishing schools cater to more specialized areas of interest. Attendance is a bit loose. Much of what goes on at these schools would be shocking and scandalous to other cultures.
For the Tahlean Forest folk, pretty much every day is a Holiday of some kind. Almost every night in the city of Nightshade is a celebration of some sort, for it is the city of pleasure. If another culture has a holiday, the Tahleans are likely to join in and celebrate it. There are, however, a few that stand out.
One evening, Wraith’s Eve in Soulfall, is set aside to appease the Wraiths by leaving drinks of wine and gifts of sweets outside the door (these are usually taken by children in the night).
In the tradition of the legend that created the city, it comes as no surprise that once a year in Lifespring the Tahleans honor and celebrate the tradition upon which this great city was founded. The Revel is celebrated every year in Lifespring to remember when the powers of nature let their guard down and drank a draft of Deadly Nightshade, being weaker for the exchange. This holiday is celebrated by drinking as much as one can tolerate, then making as many business deals as possible. Come morning, these deals must be honored no matter the cost. During the festival, rare drinks and fresh foods imported from other lands and games of chance and skill are on every corner. Though the drink flows and the morals loosen, the Lifespring holiday has quickly become one of the more favored days for marriages, engagements, and a time to resolve disputes or forget alliances.
The Zenith is observed by the nomads at the city of Nymf. On the longest day of the year in Sundance, they hold vigil and let no drink touch their lips nor sleep cloud their thoughts. They sit in silent meditation in the sun until a revelation is had that will dictate the next year’s ventures.
The Day of Great Betrayal
All Tahleans observe a day of silence to commemorate the day of betrayal that ended the war. During this day, once a year in the Lifespring, no word is spoken by any Tahlean and all contracts are put on hold for this day, with none being held to their obligations – for if there was a day that someone would betray a contract, that would be the day. This day is especially painful for the Nomadic Tahleans as it is the day they fell from power.
The government of Tahlea might look to some as meritocracy, to other’s an oligarchy, and to others sheer anarchy. The truth is more complicated. Among the Forest folk in the plains and forests, the great houses rule and run the administration of life and government. The one exception is House Faeryn-Shol, whose progenerator is said to have founded the city of Nightshade. This house is the house of arbiters. When a tie must be broken or a dispute settled, their word is the final say in the matter. It is whispered that nobody has ever truly met a real member of House Faeryn-Shol, but only their representatives.
The city of Nightshade is led by “The Gentleman ”, a charismatic figure who traces his lineage directly back to the city’s founder (a boast that can’t be challenged, as no one knows who the founder is…). The Gentleman has his hand in every pocket and his finger in every pie…and contracts with dirt on everyone. “The Gentleman ” is also the leader of House Faeryn-Shol.
The city of Nymf is led by The Lady of Ice, often just called “The Lady” of House Issian. She is said to see the future and the truth as clearly as her people see the snow. She leads the Ice Nomads and they hold her in great reverence.
Should the Lady of Ice visit the city of Nightshade, or The Gentleman visit the tundra, they would be received with humble respect and treated as befits their house. However, they are not above the law. In point of fact, both The Gentleman and The Lady have been assassinated on multiple occasions. Each attempt thought to succeed at first was later revealed to have only killed a decoy or to have somehow failed in another way.
There are no police, and no proper military. The Shaddah are a guild of assassins. When a contract is breached or an etiquette ignored, they are the ones who redress the balance. The Shaddah are part of the culture of both factions. Each house has spies everywhere. Without end. The spies even spy on the spies.
The laws in Tahlea do not function in the traditional way they do in other lands. The only true law is that the tenets of a contract, once made, must be adhered to. Thus, the only thing that is “illegal” is breach of contract. The only real protected rights are the right to execute a contract and the right to enforce a contract. And of course, the right to “redress the balance” – that is, when wronged, to answer in kind.
Courts exist to determine if a breach of contract has in fact actually occurred. Each house holds court, and since determining breach of contract is not always easy, new contracts are often made as side deals before the actual court verdict has been rendered. In rare cases that an individual does not have an arbiter, there are two figures, the Gentleman and The Lady, who may stand as arbiter to represent them.
There are punishments for breach of contract If lucky, the offender will be allowed to make a deal to avoid death or imprisonment. This may involve a fine or creation of a new contract.
The Bank of Nen (Political-2, Merchant-1, Military-3)
The organization of bankers that runs the Bank of Nen. They also have an enforcement arm to protect the bank.
The Shaddah (Exploration-3, Merchant-2)
The guild of spies and assassins who redress the balance when a contract is breached or an etiquette ignored. They are also masters of poison making.
Arbiters of Auran (Political-4)
The organization that regulates the licensing and credibility of arbiters. It is run through House Auran, but may (and probably should) be joined by an arbiter in good standing.
Merchants of Airgead (Merchant-4)
The guild that regulates and controls trade in Tahlea. They have a large variety of crafters amongst their members.
Malefimancers Guild (Magical-4)
The guild that regulates and controls the use of Malefimancy.
Sky Seers Guild (Exploration-4)
The guild that controls and regulates airship travel in and out of Tahlea.
The Noble Houses
A family encompasses a noble House and all its contracted and indentured servants. Family is life to the Tahlea culture. Family before all else. This is true even if you hate your family – especially if you hate your family. While binding family members in contracts is just as common as doing so with strangers, acting against the family is a capital offense. To act against your family is so serious an offense that you might as well hire out a contract for you own assassination and save your family the trouble (it is a matter of record that this has happened more than once). It is worth noting that blood does not have as much to do with family as loyalty. A disloyal son will be excommunicated from the family and on the street as a beggar while someone born a slave who shows themselves loyal and useful enough may become an heir or scion in time. The one constant is that the network of power is defined by the contracts someone holds. The network of contractual entanglements that hold their society together is like a chaotic network of spiderwebs with House Faeryn-Shol sitting fat at the web’s center waiting for the little creatures to entangle themselves.
Among the Forest Folk
House Faeryn-Shol (Political-4)
The Ruling Family in Nightshade, led by The Gentleman. The power of House Faeryn-Shol is an order of magnitude above the other great houses.
House Solanaceae (Political-3, Exploration-2)
The house of spies. Solanaceae manipulates Tahlean politics like puppeteers from behind the scene, though their house leaders are public figures.
House Hemlock (Political-2, Military-3, Exploration-1)
This House runs the assassin’s guild and is the enforcer of House Faeryn-Shol.
House Grey (Political-3, Merchant-2)
A ruthless house whose contracts cut like razors and whose smiles make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Led by The Grey, this house is a mercantile house whose reach extends to the very edges of Eldross itself.
House Teague (Political-1, Exploration-1, Merchant-1, Magical-1)
The madcap, this house is known to be chaotic in nature. You may know a member of this house, and be best friends with them your entire long life, and never really know them. House Teague excels at presenting a bright and welcoming smile that seems to teeter on the edge of madness.
House Auran (Political-4)
House Auran are Arbiters and mediators. They are known to be some of the best negotiators and their contracts always strive to be fair and mutually beneficial.
House Otan (Political-1, Military-3)
This only Mortal house, this house also has many Risen who have become ghosts. They guard the entrance to the forest around Nightshade, and have earned the right to self govern (for the most part).
Among the Ice Nomads
House Issian (Political-4, Merchant-2)
The only Incarnate House in the Ice Wastes. This house is a very powerful house that watches over the nomadic peoples. This house is the primary provider of ice to the hottest parts of Eldross.
House Ashyr (Political-3, Military-2)
The only Risen Mortal House, who guards the secret knowledge of the Ice Wastes. Much of what they know would break the minds of those unprepared for such knowledge. They are advisors to House Issian.
House Otan (Exploration-3, Military-2)
A Mortal House knows and protects the hidden paths in the ice wastes and provides travel routes for caravans…for a cost of course. Nothing is free.
Figures of Note
The Lord of Nightshade
Descendant of the founder of the city of Nightshade, and architect of the toppling of two warring nations’ despotic tyrannical leaders.
The Lady of Ice
In a moment of crisis, she preserved the spiritual teachings and ways of the Tehlarian people and spirited them away to the tundra when it seemed the forest homes would fall to the Velkerian forces. She is often called just “The Lady”.
The leader of the City of Nightshade.
The first to discover the pool of Maevyn’s Promise, and founder of the Assassin’s guild.
a Tahlean hero who stood alone against wave after wave of Crimsoned who besieged the forest. Nimblesnack, with poisoned blades in hand, fought the Crimsoned to a standstill at the forest’s edge. Crimsoned corpses piled so high it is said that it was the only time they were made to frown.
More of a folklore than a hero, Ramble was a traveling merchant who took the appearance of a vagabond carrying all his wares on his back. It was said he was so clever that he never met a person who he didn’t trick into some contract or other.
This figure from folklore was said to wear a coat of many pockets. So well made was this coat that it had pockets inside its pockets that contained pockets. Only Hempen himself knew what was in which pocket. It was said that a man could get so lost trying to go through the pockets of his coat that he could fall in.
This immortal Tahlean is said to impersonate members of great houses and sign disfavorable contracts that can never be kept. It’s said he trapped the Incarnate Queen herself into a contract that she broke, making him immortal. His real name has been lost to history, but he’ll gladly tell it to you for a price.
Accurate historical records go only back to the founding of Nightshade. Before that, only fractured myths and legends remain, most far too fantastical to be believed. The history prior to the Great Upheaval is now known only as The Time Before. It has become so romanticized that no one really knows for sure what happened, but all Tahleans believe it was a time where they were immortal and living in perfect bliss.
The exact details that follow have been lost to history, but what is known is at the time of the Great Upheaval roughly two centuries ago, the people in the south of Tyras were in open rebellion against their leaders to the north. The rebellion had turned into all out war. The fighting had come to a stalemate in the central forests when suddenly ash spewed from the skies in northern Tyras, and black bubbling mud began to spew from the earth to the south. Above the mud further south, a strange ice began to freeze over the mud, and crystal like structures sprang from the ice filled with images and reflections of an ancient age. Spirits it seems had been awakened within them, and those who gazed into them were possessed. The ruling nobility was forced to retreat to deal with bigger problems in their capital to the north, and the war came to an abrupt halt.
The war had been devastating for both sides. While the northerners were slaughtered in greater numbers, those killed from the south were mostly high ranking and left the rebellion in a near-leaderless disarray. Once the ash cleared and the chaos began to settle, the nobles to the north rode once again into the forests. They claimed they wish to re-establish order and bring the southern clans back into their good graces. But something of significance had happened since the war had been stopped. Some of the southerners had been changed, giving them many new vestments and a very opportunistic mentality, and strange memories of older days. The people were now more than ever ready to become independent.
There were encouraging rumors that the northerners had found an ancient artifact of great power and were unable to contain it, and were thus ready to make a deal for peace. Little did they know, the northerners had been told that the southerners were weary of fighting and ready to submit. It was under the guise of surrender that the leaders of the two sides came to meet in the forest that served as a border between their lands.
So prestigious was this day that nobility from both factions came to accept the surrender of their arch enemies. As each side sat confidently at the table, it quickly became apparent that both had been lied to, but before the first of them could stand to leave the table, the poison darts flew from the trees. Chaos erupted, but within a matter of minutes a calm had settled in the forests; nobles of both nations lay dead in the clearing. All save for those of House Faeryn-Shol, who had been mysteriously delayed in the forest that day.
It was later revealed that one of the lowest houses, Solanaceae, together with House Faeyrn-Shol, had made a deal with one of the most influential generals of Tyras to bring an end to the war and establish a hard line between the two nations. This lowest of houses and the highest of houses, in one night had worked a contract with the nation’s sworn enemies and devastated both governments. Through this act House Solanaceae rose to power, becoming one of the most powerful and feared families.
The forest was named the border between the lands and the city of Nightshade sprang up at the same clearing where nations fell. The contract between the two conspirators became the foundation of a new society. Believing the forest now cursed for this treason, and without their leaders, the mortal Tahleans fled to the icy wastes, where they were taken in by the matriarch of House Issian, who had refused to allow her people to become embroiled in the war. Those who wished a life not dictated by tales of the past but the course of the future stayed behind and became the Forest folk. The forest became known as the Blackheart Forest.